Warriors have the look back, ready to make a run - MSHSL Boys Basketball Tournament 2015
By Dugan Thomas
CALEDONIA, MN 03/11/2015
The (26-4) Caledonia Warriors boys basketball team is back. After rolling through the Section 1 tournament, the Warriors are back at state for the second straight year. Tonight at 6:00 PM in the quarterfinal round at The Barn (Williams Arena), they face an old nemesis. The Annandale Cardinals, who knocked the Warriors out in the semi-finals of last years state tournament, winning 81-76. Annandale, who was the #1 seed last year, lost to #2 Esko 60-41 in the state championship. Caledonia took the third place title beating Fairmont 79-65.
This year Caledonia is the #2 seed, and the (20-10) Cardinals are unseeded after losing 4 starters to graduation last year. They do have 6-6 Chase Knickerbocker, a D-II Minnesota-Crookston recruit who averages 27.2 points per game. The rest of the starters average under 10 points a game, with a 6-4 freshman and 6-5 sophomore manning the front line. This team is young, with not much experience coming back, but they've won their last 6, and beat 20-win teams St. Cloud Cathedral, Maple Lake, and Breck to get here. The #1 seed in the AA tournament is (28-2) St. Croix Lutheran, who will play 2014 champ Esko tonight at Target Center.
Three of the four Caledonia losses this year were to #1 ranked teams. Twice to #1 Class A Rushford, and the other to Iowa's basketball powerhouse Waverly-Shell Rock. The Warriors return the bulk of last years state tournament squad, only losing 2 seniors to graduation. They've been rolling with 8 key players most of the year, and all have plenty of experience and athleticism.
The magician, junior Colton Lampert has been lighting it up the last few games, putting up 24 points against St.Charles, and 22 in the section title game against Rochester Lourdes. He's the fastest player on the court, and can do it all. The no-look passes, the 3's at the top of the key, the blonde locks flowing in the breeze. He's as cool as a cucumber. I think he even winks to the girls in the stands, as he flies by his defender for a hack and a hoop. Lampert averages 14.2 points per game, and has 62 steals on the year. After missing 6 games at the start of the year from a football injury, Lampert has made his case as one of the best players in southeast Minnesota.
Senior 6-7 Bemidji State recruit Kyle Sorenson averages 14.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. His long arms have created 86 blocks this year, and his presence is always felt on the court. He can hit the 3 from outside, or he can pound it down the middle. If he gets double teamed on the block, the high-low passes to Justin Burg normally result in a lay-up. Sorenson made the all-tournament team last year with his excellent play, and he'll need to be that senior leader this year. He will be a big factor for the Warriors.
5-11 senior guard Austin Bauer took control last year, making the all-tournament team and leading the Warriors to a third place title. This year he's averaging 9.5 points per game, playing with a broken nose suffered in the first match-up with Rochester Lourdes. The Caledonia football quarterback has the senior leadership skills this team needs, and they'll be looking for him to take over again. I've seen his confidence rise the last few games, and when he gets that 3-point shot going, watch out.
Freshman phenom Owen King easily broke the Caledonia school record for 3-pointers this year with 97. His 42% behind the arc will have defenders looking for him early and often. Not only a 3-point shooter, but an excellent ball handler and defender. King averages 14.3 points per game, and he's dished out 119 assists on the year. The Warriors need him to get hot behind the arc, and when he does, they come in bunches.
6-4 senior power forward Justin Burg does the dirty work. Beating and banging down low is what he's used to, and he's happy to do it. The stud Caledonia football lineman has been on a tear of late, taking over the sub-section game against St. Charles with 18 points and 8 rebounds. His soft shot around the rim has been a pleasant surprise this year, and his relentless work in the trenches has become invaluable. Burg averages 6 points and 5 rebounds per game, shooting 57% from the floor.
6-4 junior forward Gavin Schroeder can jump out of the gym. His alley-oop dunk against Austin this year in the Warrior Holiday Classic made him a star on Twitter, and he can get up there any time he wants. The Warriors like to run a backside lob, and Schroeder is the usual target. If Lampert can make that beautiful alley-oop connection to Gavin again, it'll bring the house down, and give the Warriors a shot of adrenaline. Schroeder averages 9.5 points and 4 rebounds per game, shooting 52% from the floor.
Senior guard Seth Twite is the defensive assassin. He averages 3 points and 3 rebounds per game, but his role is to provide a spark with his athleticism. When he gets a chance though, he can play with the best of them. In an overtime thriller with Lourdes this year, Twite stepped-up with 2 huge 3-pointers, and took over down the stretch to pull out the win. The Warriors need his spark off the bench to make a deep run.
Junior guard Tanner Gran has been learning from Colton Lampert lately. The behind the back pass in the section final, the lob pass to a streaking Lampert against St. Charles. The creativity and the spark. Gran has loosened things up lately, and he's become a pleasant surprise. He only averages 2 points and 2.3 assists per game, but his confidence is showing, and the Warriors need his play off the bench. He lit-up Lourdes with 3 3-pointers in the clutch to win in OT earlier this year. The kid can shoot if he needs to.
The Coach. 1997 State Champ - point guard legend. The ringleader who never sits down. Yelling at his boys to push it up the floor, keep the pace up, run and gun. Caledonia head coach Josh Diersen recorded his 200th career win this season - and counting. He's built quite a program with the help of assistants Jeremy Leis and Brad King. Section 1 champs two years in a row, 2014 3rd place title. It's not just Caledonia football anymore. Caledonia basketball is making it's mark. The 2015 state title is up for grabs, and Diersen and his boys want it bad.
I'm not gonna sugarcoat it. 6' 7" and 6' 4" players don't grow on trees. Caledonia has a nice nucleus of players coming back to have a good team next year, but teams like this are hard to find. The magician, the D-II stud, the quarterback leader, the freshman phenom, the dirty Burg, the dunk king, the defensive assassin, the creative spark, and the point guard legend. I've seen the look. They have the fire back in their eyes, and they have the talent and experience to win it all. Who wants to put their name with 1997 Caledonia legends Middendorf, Foster, Kittleson, King, and Diersen?
Caledonia basketball in 2015 has an opportunity to make it's mark. They've worked their butts off all year long to get this opportunity, and they deserve it. What they make of it, is totally up to them.
One thing I know for sure - the communities of Caledonia, Brownsville, Eitzen, and Freeburg, will be behind them every step of the way.