January 12, 2018 at 1:52 p.m.
The annual county rivalry had been very competitive the past few years, but with a healthy Carmen Backes and an injury-riddled North Branch squad, the game wasn’t much of a contest on Thursday, January 4.
The Wildcats raced out to a 19 point lead at halftime, led by Carmen Backes and Heather Elfering.
Although the Vikings chipped away in the second half a bit, it was mostly against Chisago Lakes’ role players and bench squad.
Backes paced all scorers with 32 points, and she added 11 rebounds and four steals. Elfering scored 11 points and grabbed five boards and had three steals. Sarah Bjelland added eight points, three rebounds and three assists.
“We continue to get better while Backes is getting stronger as she comes back from ACL surgery one year ago,” Head Coach Craig Walker said. “We are definitely embracing team play both offensively and defensively. Carmen's going to get her points, but we had somewhere around 19 assists as well.”
Walker noted that along with Bjelland, Sophie Wood provided a nice spark off the bench. She finished with five points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
For North Branch, they are still missing chunks of their lineup due to injury. They had three girls in double figures, but their top scorer was Savannah Linkert and her 14 points. Jillayna Hoppe had 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists and Megan Bunes had 10 points and four rebounds for the Vikings.
Chisago Lakes 68, Grand Rapids 60
The Wildcats showed their true potential with an eight point win over fifth-ranked Class AAA team Grand Rapids, who was the top team in the section prior to this game on Saturday, January 6.
Early on in the game, Chisago Lakes was down, as Rapids is lead by All-State and Division I commit Heaven Hamling. Facing a nine point deficit, Chisago Lakes got aggressive and while they weren’t making their shots, they were getting to the line. “Our free throw shooting kept us in the game early,” Walker said. They took 15 shots from the charity stripe in the first half, making nine of them.
That kept the game manageable, with CL down just 37-30 at halftime. “We spoke in the locker room about continuing to be aggressive as the officials were calling a close game and we were getting their players in foul trouble,” Walker said. “One of our goals for the game was to get into the bench players as we didn't think they are as deep as we are.”
The ‘Cats erased the seven point halftime deficit immediately, going on an 8-0 run to start the second half. They started to build a lead of their own, but the Thunderhawks certainly won’t going to go quietly, and they went on a 6-0 run to trim CL’s lead down to one.
As the game wound down, two of Grand Rapids’ starters fouled out, but CL’s Thea Kluge fouled out with four minutes left in the game and Backes followed with two minutes left in the game. However, the girls on the court extended the lead once Kluge and Backes went down. “Our experience showed in a big way in that situation,” Walker noted.
The ‘Cats eventually held on for the eight point win. Backes finished with 37 points and 15 rebounds, and the performance just so happened to fall on the one year anniversary of her ACL injury last year.
“It's great for her and it's a testament to her faith and drive to recover,” Walker said. “She's worked very hard to get back to where she was prior to her injury. This is a big section win for us and we’ll probably see them again.”
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