March 22, 2012 at 8:20 a.m.
Fergus Falls made sure that Chisago Lakes’ first ever trip to the state tournament was not a pleasant experience.
The Wildcats took to the raised floor at Williams Arena, or more affectionately known to Minnesotans as ‘The Barn’, to take on the second-seeded, top-ranked Fergus Falls Otters, who’s record stood at 28-1 on the year.
The Wildcats were the decided underdogs, but they were hoping to carry some momentum from their come-from-behind section final win over Grand Rapids and their first ever trip to the state tournament in history.
That whole momentum plan started out perfect for the Wildcats. They forced two early turnovers by the Otters plus a missed three pointer -- something that would not be common as the game wore on -- by Fergus Falls sophomore Brianna Rasmussen.
They turned those solid defensive possessions into a quick 5-0 lead and the energy on the Chisago Lakes sideline and legion of fans was already permeating through The Barn.
It didn’t last long, though.
Fergus Falls retook the early lead after a three pointer from Rasmussen made it 7-5. At exactly four minutes left in the game, the two teams had traded baskets and the game stood at 9-8 in favor of the Otters.
Over the next eight and a half minutes, Fergus Falls went on a 26-0 run that thoroughly deflated any momentum or hope that Chisago Lakes brought with them to Williams.
In that disastrous stretch, the Wildcats went 0-12 from the field, including zero-for-three from beyond the arc, 0-for-two from the free throw line and committed eight turnovers.
As if Chisago’s play wasn’t rough on it’s own, Fergus Falls was shooting the lights out at the Barn, a place seemingly suited for them and their maroon and gold colors and their cavalcade of fans that made the long trek.
The Otters were four-of-five from beyond the arc in that stretch, four-of-nine from the field and three-of-four from the free throw line.
Rasmussen basically took over the game, scoring 11 points and hitting all three long distance shots she attempted.
Also in that stretch, Chisago Lakes’ premier player, Whitney Tinjum, picked up three fouls, leaving her two away from exiting the game with almost 26 minutes left in the. Down 26-8, Chisago Lakes’ best offensive weapon and only person ever to score over 2,000 career points had to camp on the bench and watch.
“Fergus Falls put a lot of pressure on Hannah Trandahl and it was difficult to get our offense started from just over half court,” Head Coach Craig Walker said. “Combine that with our wings having difficulty getting open and we were in trouble. All season we've been an inside-out type of team and we couldn't get the ball to Bryanna Fernstrom or Brittney Land inside.”
After Fergus Falls ran the lead to 35-8, Tinjum returned and broke the dry spell with an old-fashioned three point play, hitting a jumper while being fouled and hitting the subsequent free throw.
The rest of the first half played out still in Fergus Falls favor as they stretched the lead to 31 at one point. A small 5-0 run by the Wildcats put the game at 44-18 at halftime.
Walker said he thought the stage of Williams Arena and the luster of the state tournament may have affected his team a bit more than a team like Fergus Falls, who’s been to the state tournament numerous times.
“I'm sure there was nervousness and their pregame routine was a little different,” he noted. “I think some of them reacted differently than we’ve seen and it showed in their play.”
He also pointed to the fact that Tinjum picked up three early fouls, and that can really alter what the Wildcats have been used to for the last couple years.
“I give Whitney and our team a lot of credit, as much as we struggled, they didn't quit, but whenever Whitney's not in the game, it is a definite change,” Walker said. “Combine her sitting for a few minutes when we are already struggling on both ends of the court and it's tough. Now you have kids playing who may not be used to shooting the basketball as much and add the nerves of playing at Williams and you see the results.”
At the break, the Wildcats were shooting 22 percent as a team while Fergus Falls was shooting 57 percent, including 63 percent (7-11) from behind the three point line. Rasmussen had 18 points, three rebounds and two assists at the break while sisters Mariah and Anna Monke combined for 14 points and six boards.
For the Wildcats, Tinjum had 11 of the team’s 18 points and five rebounds. Annie Stenson had three points and Fernstrom and Trandahl each had two.
In the second half, the Wildcats never got closer than 23 points and fell back as far as 40 at times, eventually succumbing to the Otters 68-37.
For the game, Tinjum had a game-high 24 points and added seven rebounds. Outside of Tinjum’s six-of-14 shooting performance, the Wildcats shot an abysmal three-of-26 from the field
Fergus Falls had four players in double digits, led by Rasmussen, who netted 22. Sydney Schultz added 14, Mariah Monke had 11 and Anna Monke had 10.
As a team, the Wildcats had 19 turnovers with only five assists.
Despite the tough loss and going one-and-done, Walker still found a way to be upbeat about the future of the program. “The biggest thing that I take away from this experience is that as a program, we need to be challenged and continue to have high expectations,” he said.
“We set goals for this season to win a section game, since we have struggled to do that in my time here, and we did that.
“Then we won another and came back against Grand Rapids to win the Section. Now that we've been there, we have an idea of what it takes mentally and physically to get there. Our returning players who are replacing our graduated seniors need to realize the effort that it took for us to get there.”
Walker noted that this group of seniors will be missed, but they will not be forgotten. They were the first class to ever take the Wildcats to the state tournament and what they’ve accomplished will have a special meaning to the school and community.
Walker took a minute to reflect on the girls in this historic senior class.
“Dani Hoyt was a great person to have on a team. She really played for her teammates and her love for the group and the sport.”
“Annie Stenson saved her best for the section semifinals, setting a school record with seven threes against Hibbing. Her carefree attitude will be missed.”
“Brittney Land is perhaps the unsung hero for this season. She is a no-nonsense type of person who worked her tail off and developed into a solid basketball player. She has done all the little things that don't get listed in the stats at the end of the game and I think our teams was better because of it.”
“Zoe Hansen’s versatility will be tough to replace. She was a two-year captain who is a great rebounder and finished with 71 assists this year. She's a better person than she is a basketball player, which says a lot about her character.”
“Whitney Tinjum... what can you say about a player who has set virtually every record there is in this program? Thank you for your hard work and dedication to this sport, our school and your teammates.”
Walker knows the future doesn’t quite have Tinjum or Hansen or Land in the picture but he still has some pieces in Trandahl and Fernstrom, but what the girls did this year can’t happen again and he knows that. “The senior class of the first state tournament team in Chisago Lakes history will be impossible to replace!” he said.
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