Photo Credit: inforum.com
As you will remember, we picked the Cyclones to win 2018 D2. Oh, wait, you don’t remember? Well, now you know. We picked the Cyclones to win D2. So what happened? Well, we watched the Cyclones win 2 games on Sunday, beating Rise 11 Purple 47-42 in a semi-final and Crossfire Erlien 54-50 in the final.
Truth be told, we picked the Cyclones largely because of point guard Natalie Steichen, one of the fastest and quickest guards in the state, a small but totally dynamic playmaker on both ends of the court. So, well, what else happened? Steichen didn’t come down for this tournament, not at all. Not Saturday, not Sunday. But, on the other hand, I also knew that the Cyclones have guards Nicole Herbranson who will be joining Steichen at MSU-Moorhead a year hence, and yet another 1 in Kylea Praska, who played for Thief River in that big upset of Hutch at state 2 years ago. Plus, bigs Lily Pearson and Breanna Price.
Still, I wouldn’t have picked the Cyclones if I had know they would be without Steichen. But, instead, the margin of error was a lot smaller, but the Cyclones still won it all, mostly due to Herbranson’s play. She scored in double figures in every day with 11, then 18, 19 in that semi-final we watched, and 21 in the finale. Plus, post Grace Steichen, Natalie’s “big” sister, was in double figures twice and scored 8 in the final. So, again, the Cyclones had plenty of weapons to win D2 without Natalie Steichen, just with smaller margins.
Still, the Rise led the Cyclones most of the way, 19-16 at he half, 25-22 early in the 2nd. The Cyclones took the lead at 2:04 on an 8-foot pull-up in the lane by Herbranson, then extended it to 40-37. on a Herbranson step-through in the lane. Grace Steichen, Praska, Price and Herbranson then made 7-of-10 FT to close it out. The Rise had a nice balanced effort as Sam Hagedorn scored 12, Madi Heiderscheidt 9, Haley Kieweit 8 and Sarah Ibarra 7.
Herbranson was strong with the ball. She spent the 1st half setting up her teammates. In he 2nd she started creating her own shot and, as we said, scored on a variety of moves inside 10 feet.
In the final, as we noted Herbranson scored 21, Grace Steichen and Praska added 8, and Price 7. Grace, who is certainly less of a household name in these parts than Price and Pearson, outscored them both in both Sunday games, thereby elevating her status a bunch. Katrina Theis continued her stellar play for Crossfire Erlien with 16 points. She is a strong but mobile wing, very athletic, and does a little bit of everything.
We saw 2 other 2018 D2 semis. One of them was the other championship (1st place) semi, and the other was the 9th place semi. Crossfire Erlien upset top-seeded (in D2 that means #15) Heat Vang 44-26, as CFE outscored the Heat 24-3 from behind the arc. Taya Sam-Sablan and Sierra Giffrow each nailed 4 3s for the game, and finished with 15 and 12 points, respectively.
We took in a consolation semi because we wanted to see Central Lakes Thunder and their bigs Olivia Lane, Sophie Sowada and Jami Nelson. I thought that if anybody could beat the Cyclones, this was the team. But their depth turned out to be an issue.
Well, Nelson wasn’t there but, fortunately, Lane and Sowada were. It was the 1st time we have seen Sowada. She proved to be a lean, mobile 6-footer who, however, mixes it up inside but scores facing the basket, even in transition, mainly by virtue of her long arms and more of a finesse than a physical approach.
Lane was the star, as we knew she would be from the 2016 state tournament and from Brett’s report of a few weeks ago. She is very similar to Sowada, only more. Taller, quicker, more instinctive, with a bunch more vertical. Super vertical like Carmen Backes or Alison Gerads. And, very active, always on the move, usually in the direction of the offensive rim. She scores in transition, off the glass and on powerful jump shot out to 12 feet.
And, then there’s guard Regan McElfresh, who we had neither seen nor really hear about. She’s from Brainerd and apparently she is a great soccer player. She’s athletic, both in the physical sense and in the mental sense. She just knows how to play the game. She makes the right decision, and executes. I would have sworn that against the Comets she mostly made hustle plays and set up her teammates. Then I see that she in fact led her team with 19 points. I didn’t keep a play-by-play, and I can’t say how she scored those 19 points. At the rim? Jump shots? I dunno. Just by being active and engaged and around the ball all day long, I’d say.
Still, CLT was essentially a 3-girl crew. They didn’t have the depth to stay with the Rise in the 1st round, but then won 4 games to finish 9th. I’d say they were the #3 team in D2, all 3 of them in the lower bracket—Cyclones, Rise, Central Lakes Thunder. In the 9th place final, Crossfire Willey was the victim 51-28 as Lane and McElfresh scored another 17 and 15 points, respectively.
The Best of 2018 D2
This is just among the teams and players I saw and reported above. We’ve talked about all of these players quite a bit up above, so we’re just going to name them below
Post—Sophie Sowada, Central Lakes Thunder, 6-1, is the pick ahead of Breanna Price, Cyclones, 6-0, and Lauren Isaacson, Rise, 5-11
Power Forward—no question here the choice is Olivia Lane, Central Lakes Thunder, 6-2, and our #16-rated 2019 in the state. Grace Steichen, Cyclones, and Hailey Kiewiet, Rise, follow.
Small Forward—Katherine Theis, Crossfire Erlien, 6-0, is the pick with Alethea Kluge of Heat Vang next. They are very similar players, mobile, athletic, but Theis had the better day scoring. floor. The third choice is Brianna Polesky of the Rise. Tartan needed, and she led her team on the boards and added 2 steals.
Point Guard—Nicole Herbranson, Cyclones, 5-10, is the pick, with Regan McElfresh of Central Lakes Thunder and Madi Heiderscheidt, Rise, next. We haven’t really talked about Heiderscheidt so I will add that she is a thin, quick, aggressive 1, a lefty who can hit the 3.
Shooting Guard—Mandy Molitor, Comets Select, 5-8. I’m not really sure you’d call her a 2, she’s more of an all-purpose wing, a smart, versatile player who does a little bit of everything and doesn’t make mistakes. Kylea Praska, Cyclones, and Tiffany Johnson, Heat Vang, a nice jump shooter out to the arc and beyond, are next.
So those are some of the top performers in 2018 D2 on Sunday.