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Tom Elliott: Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks are area's best bet for state

Jan. 12—The Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks last made the state boys basketball tournament in 1991. The Blackjacks were led by Jeff Nordgaard, one of the best basketball players to come from west central Minnesota.

A 6-foot-7 small forward, after leading Dawson-Boyd to its only state appearance, he played four seasons for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he was named the Horizon League Player of the Year in 1996. He then was a second-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Bucks and wound up playing most of his pro career overseas. playing in Italy, France, Poland and Greece before retiring in 2009.

Not saying that anyone on this year's Dawson-Boyd boys basketball team is as good as Nordgaard, but the the Blackjacks have their best chance at a state tournament since he was roaming the high school halls there.

The Blackjacks are 13-0, ranked second in the state in Class A and loaded with size, quickness and talent, all of it young. D-B's the best Class A team in the area with not a single senior on the varsity roster.

It starts with a front line that includes Brayson Boike, a 6-foot-7 junior guard who shoots 3-pointers well. Then, there's 6-6 junior forward Drew Hjelmeland who is tough inside and out. He's another 3-point gunner. Meanwhile, Gunner Liebl, a 6-foot sophomore guard, has emerged as another serious scoring threat.

Put it all together and Dawson-Boyd is the area's best bet at a state berth.

The Blackjacks are the team to beat in Section 3A-North, where the top teams in the section reside. MACCRAY (10-3) is No. 14 in the QRF rankings. The Wolverines are experienced with seven seniors and can match up reasonably well size-wise with Dawson-Boyd with 6-6 seniors Sawyer Janssen and Jordan Warne. Isaac Post is one of the top senior guards in the area.

The teams are scheduled to play Feb. 6 in Clara City.

There's one caveat. Dawson-Boyd beat MACCRAY 78-53 on Dec. 7.

No. 22 Minneota (11-2) is another team to keep an eye on in 3A-North, as are Canby (7-3, No. 41) and Central Minnesota Christian (5-5, No. 58).

The rest of the 3A-North includes No. 96 Lac qui Parle Valley (3-8), No. 106 Wabasso (3-8), No. 113 Lakeview (4-9), No. 135 Yellow Medicine East (1-10) and No. 146 Renville County West (1-9).

The top teams in 3A-South right now are No. 16 Hills-Beaver Creek (7-2), No. 35 Southwest Minnesota Christian (6-4), No. 40 Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (7-4) and No. 50 Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (7-5).

Southwest Minnesota Christian has a great basketball tradition and is always tough in the playoffs. RTR is defending state Class A champion. Note that Dawson-Boyd already has beaten both. The section final is not going to be easy for either side.

Here is a look at other sections involving West Central Tribune area teams:

BOLD (6-5) has a No. 52 QRF and right now is looking up at No. 9 Sleepy Eye (9-1), No. 21 Mountain Lake Area/Comfrey (9-1), No. 25 Sleepy Eye St. Mary's (8-4) and No. 49 Springfield (5-5) in the QRF. There a half-dozen other teams in the 2A that could make some noise, including No. 53 Lester Prairie (7-8), No. 59 New Ulm Cathedral (7-4), No. 60 United South Central (7-4), No. 64 Madelia (7-4), No. 66 Cedar Mountain (7-4), No. 75 Mankato Loyola (7-6) and No. 85 Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City (5-6).

No. 31 Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (6-4) is behind No. 4 West Central Area (10-2) and Brandon-Evansville (7-2) in the 6A-South QRF rankings, with No. 31 Hancock (7-5) a team to watch.

No. 94 Benson (5-5) is trying to move up in 6A-South.

In 6A-North, No. 8 Ada-Borup-West (10-0), No. 11 Hillcrest Lutheran Academy (8-1) and No. 13 Henning (11-2) are the top teams.

No. 9 Eden Valley-Watkins (9-1) is the defending section champion and the team everyone is chasing.

There are a lot of good teams in this section and the talent is pretty close. Watch out for No. 14 Redwood Valley (9-3), which might be the top team in 3AA-South, and No. 16 Jackson County Central (7-3).

In 3AA-North, there is No. 18 Morris/Chokio-Alberta (8-3), No. 24 Paynesville (9-4), No. 34 New London-Spicer (7-4), No. 52 Montevideo (8-5) and No. 60 Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (7-4). It's easy to make a case for any of them taking on Eden Valley-Watkins in a sub-section final. Much will be sorted out in the next six weeks or so.

No. 91 Litchfield (2-8) and No. 120 Minnewaska (0-12) are also in the section.

No. 4 Alexandria (8-3) is the team to beat in the section. No. 11 Detroit Lakes (10-1) and No. 16 St. Cloud Tech (7-3) are worthy contenders.

No. 32 Fergus Falls (5-5), No. 38 Little Falls (7-3), No. 40 Rocori (5-6), No. 56 St. Cloud Apollo (2-10) and No. 58 Willmar (1-10) are jockeying for position the rest of the way.