Pictured: Coach Johnsrud oversees practice as his team prepares for their opener at home on Thursday against Pipestone.
After a successful season last year that saw them make it to the section finals, the Minnewaska boys’ basketball team is hoping to replicate that success this year.
As is the case nearly every year, the Lakers must replace some quality players lost to graduation. But Minnewaska is in a good position to do that, returning four starters from last year’s squad. The four are now seniors and have plenty of varsity experience under their belts.
The returning starters are 6’3” wing Aaron VerSteeg, who averaged over 11 points per game, shot 53% from the field and was named to the WCC All-Conference team.
Peyton Johnsrud, a 6’2” guard, averaged over 14 points per game and shot 50% from the field, a very good percentage for a guard. Peyton was also named All-Conference in the WCC.
Sam Hested, a 6’4” wing, averaged almost nine points per game, hit 52% from the field and was named Honorable Mention All-Conference WCC.
Post player Brady Hoffman stands 6’5” and averaged nearly five points per game. Brady, as did the other three returning starters, hit at least 50% of his shots last season.
The Lakers as a team averaged 51% from the field last year, an excellent percentage and a reason why Minnewaska had 21 wins and only seven losses.
The Lakers will have a number of seniors vying for starting positions and significant playing time. Those seniors are Connor Johnsrud, 6’2” wing, Mitchell Gruber, 5’11” guard, Jace Lindemann, 5’10” guard and Cole Harste, 6’3” post.
Hunter Kostelecky, a 6’4” wing and Damon Uhde, a 5’11” wing, are juniors that should see plenty of action on the hardwood this season.
Phil Johnsrud is in his 20th season as head coach for the Lakers. Johnsrud passed the 300 win milestone at the end of last season and has high hopes for the 2021 Lakers. Johnsrud will be assisted by coaches Darin Johnson, Jesse Johnson and Ted Hill.
“We return some solid experience along with some good athleticism,” Johnsrud said. “And we hope to be able to fill the shoes of graduating seniors. If so, we could be a good team in the WCC and Section 3AA.”
The West Central Conference is always very competitive. Minnewaska finished in third place last season with a 10-4 conference record, just behind second place Melrose. The Dutchmen posted an 11-3 record. BOLD won the WCC race with a 13-1 record, the lone loss coming to the Lakers on the Warriors’ home floor.
Minnewaska opens the 2021 season on Thursday with a home matchup against Section 6AA South member Pipestone. After that the Lakers run into the two top WCC teams from last season. On Saturday Minnewaska travels to Melrose for a 1 p.m. tip-off, then on Tuesday, Jan. 19, the Lakers make the trip to Olivia to play the Warriors.
Minnewaska has 18 games on the schedule and it’s hoped to get them all in despite the challenges presented by Covid. The playing of a post-season will be determined at a later date by the MSHSL.