By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
Mankato Loyola senior Evan Ellingworth may not have soft, pointy ears or a particular craving for large bones, but he’ll be the first to tell you he tries to act like an attack dog on the basketball court.
“Our coach has an expression he uses a lot,” Ellingworth said during practice this week. “He says we should look like choir boys but act like junkyard dogs. I’ve kind of taken that to heart.”
Point guard Ellingworth (5-feet-10) is the lone returning starter on a Loyola team that will likely suffer some growing pains this season. Not counting any foreign exchange students, he is one of only two seniors on the team. The other is forward Connor Tanhoff (5-11).
Ellingworth has been playing basketball ever since he can remember. He grew up playing with Loyola youth traveling teams and then finally made it to the Crusaders’ varsity squad last year as junior. He earned a starting berth right away and played in every game last season.
Ellingworth has always been a solid ball-handler and a decent shooter, but it wasn’t until he came under the tutelage of head coach Tim Anderson that he began to truly embrace the defensive side of basketball.
“Defense is something coach Anderson really stresses,” said Ellingworth, who averaged 6.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists last season. “I’ve grown to love playing defense. I like getting on the other team’s best player and just staying in his face.”
How much does Ellingworth enjoy playing defense?
When asked what pleases him the most: Making a basket, dishing out the perfect pass, or stopping an opponent from scoring, the senior doesn’t hesitate. “I definitely like shutting the other guy down.”
Anderson said the team will rely on Ellingworth a lot this winter. He’s confident the senior can carry a heavy workload.
“He’s a tough kid who loves playing basketball,” Anderson said. “We lost about 85 percent of our scoring and 95 percent of our rebounding so we’re probably going to have to ask Evan to score more for us this year. He’s a leader, and I know he’ll do whatever we ask of him.”
Tanhoff (3.0 ppg), junior guard Carson Seifert (9.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and junior guard Lance Gaspar (3.3 ppg, 2.5 assists) are the only other players on the team who bring back varsity experience. As he was a year ago, Gaspar will be only a part-time player. He spends two afternoons a week in the Twin Cities playing soccer.
“We understand that soccer is Lance’s priority but he played for us on a part-time basis last year, too, and it seemed to work out OK,” Anderson said. “He’s such a good athlete that he helps us whenever he’s able to show up.”
Among the other juniors who figure to help out this season are guards Mark Kortuem and Ryan Van Blarcom and forwards Ben Torgerson, Reilly Knutson and Francis Weber.
“We’ve moved from the Gopher Conference to the Valley this year but our goals remain the same — we want to be competitive,” Anderson said. “Maple River, Lake Crystal (Wellcome Memorial) and (Granada-Huntley) East Chain should be the top teams and we want to be in the mix with them.”