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Sun Sailor

BSM repeats as section champs

By by Jason Olson,

2023-03-15

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Olson’s 32 points leads Knights past Holy Angels for Section 6AAA title

First-year Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Tim Ellefson said his girls basketball team executed everything they practiced from the start of the Section 6AAA final to earn a 71-47 win over Holy Angels Thursday.

It was the third consecutive meeting between the two Class AAA state powerhouses in the section final. BSM has won the last three meetings, including an 88-73 regular season game at the Haben Center back on Dec. 17.

“They made it easy for me,” Ellefson said. “We’ve worked on making the extra pass, moving without the ball, seeing the open girl and it just came together [tonight]. It was fun to be a part of.”

Red Knights junior Olivia Olson was a major factor all over the floor. She had a game-high 32 points. She was also disruptive on defense and worked the ball around on offense, which helped senior captain Sierre Lumpkin score 11 points and sophomore Zahara Bishop add 10 points. Sophomore standout Kendall McGee was also impressive on both ends of the floor, despite scoring just five points. Sophomore Josephine Nnaji and eighth grader Sydney Friedly each had five points.

Holy Angels used 14 points from senior Ella Pritchard and junior Jenna Buer who worked incredibly hard for those baskets.

The Red Knights (23-6) simply made more shots and pushed the pace to build a 10-0 over the opening 3:27. Stars’ Pritchard fought through traffic in the lane to put her team on the board with 12:55 left in the opening half trailing 10-2 at the time.

The points were tough to come by for the Stars as junior Kiera O’Rourke made an inside basket despite being fouled, but missed the free throw midway through the half, narrowing the lead to 22-7.

Stars sophomore Celia Lind and Buer made difficult 3-point baskets over the final 1:45 of the half before Olson fittingly closed out the half with a mid-range jumper to carry a 36-16 lead into the locker room.

Lind’s 3 came off a well-executed screen by O’Rourke and Buer’s 3 came from near the same spot in the corner in front of the BSM bench with under 10 seconds on the clock.

BSM pushed the ball up the floor to give Olson one more shot which she made, despite being well-covered.

With a 20-point lead at the half, Ellefson knew Stars’ coach Dan Woods would come out pressing on defense looking to score points in bunches.

“They can score a lot of points in a hurry and we cannot let up,” Ellefson told the team at halftime the margin was much closer over the second half as BSM outscored Holy Angels 35-31 over the final 18 minutes. “We’ve always talked about our focus has to be better during practice, end of games, and when we are ahead so that was something to work so that’s one thing we were able to work on over the second half.”

McGee said they saw the ball much better as a team in the halfcourt offensive sets to find the open look at the basket against a tough defense.

As for the quick start, McGee said the opposite has been the case for much of the season with slow starts.

“We had to come out early and get early buckets so it wasn’t a race to the finish and that’s what we were able to do,” McGee said who is part of a strong sophomore class. “We rallied around each other first, we knew before we had a new coach that we had to make some changes so when Tim came along we bought along to what he was saying and we were able to get back to state and hopefully get further.”

Last season the Red Knights bowed out in the state quarterfinal.

New role with Knights

Coaching in big games under a spotlight isn’t something new for Ellefson who previously coached at Hutchinson in addition to Minnesota Fury’s nationally-recognized AAU program.

“That’s why I do it. I love the challenge and if you just push them one way going together, that they take care of a lot of it and I just get out of the way,” he said. “They just needed a little guidance and if you put them in the right spots, they are going to finish and do the right thing.”

Being able to teach and coach in the same school was very appealing to Ellefson so he could get to know the group better than just on the basketball court but in their daily lives at school.

“It really helps to see the kids every day,” Ellefson said. “I wouldn’t have done this I couldn’t be there every day to see what makes the school tick because you coach it differently when you know and the kids have embraced me they believe in what I’m saying and to see that come together is a beautiful thing.”

Two specific points during the season came to mind when Ellefson was asked about the team and the learning process to get to this point.

Both were lessons learned in losses to elite programs including the second game of the season, a 77-65 loss at Hopkins in The Breakdown Tip-Off Classic on Dec. 2 before the first of two Metro West Conference meetings with eventual champion Chaska, a 92-83 final.

“The first time we played Chaska they couldn’t stop us from scoring but we couldn’t stop them from scoring either,” Ellefson said. “But, we saw we could compete with the best. The other game was against Hopkins where we led at halftime and that got our kids to a point where we knew we could compete but something wasn’t right. We weren’t playing right but knew we had the talent to do it.”

That leads into the second game against Chaska, this time on the Hawk’s home court on Feb. 2 when went to the home team by an 86-58 margin.

Ellefson said his team didn’t play with the effort needed to win against the top teams.

“We saw when we play like that we aren’t that good and a lot of thanks to [Chaska] for that to show us our flaws,” Ellefson said. “Since that game, we turned it around and played really good basketball.”

The Red Knights are 9-1 since then and enter state on a seven-game winning streak. The lone loss coming at Becker was an 84-78 final in Becker, which is perennially ranked among the best teams in Class AAA.

With so many strong players, Ellefson said the toughest part is not showing everything at once and knowing when to pick and chose the opportunities.

“There are times when we need to use the clock and move the ball and every kid wants to score and attack, which is our mentality. There are times when you want to use the clock and preserve a lead and that comes with maturity,” he said. “It’s taken a few hard lessons either at practice or in a timeout to learn that.”

With multiple scorers who can each get 20 points on any given night, McGee said it comes down to situational awareness. “Tonight, Liv was on, so we got her the ball, Sierre was making her shots and as a point guard my job was to get them the ball so we could get easier buckets instead of forcing them,” McGee said.

Ellefson appreciates what Woods has done to establish Holy Angels as a marquee program in the state from his time in Hutchinson when the two would face in section play and during the regular season.

“Coming from Hutchinson, it’s been a rivalry between Dan and I for a long time,” Ellefson said. “Dan has his kids playing hard all of the time and they are tough out but tonight we had an answer for everything they threw at us and we were the better team, nothing against Dan as a coach but we had a better team and they will come at us next year.”

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