BEA g hoops—21 3/18

Blue Earth Area’s Jackie Klinkner (left) is the only senior on a Bucs’ team that will open state tournament play tonight against Jordan.

Just past the midway point of the girls basketball season, Blue Earth Area coach Al Cue thought his team might be in serious trouble.

The Bucs were beaten 57-28 by Fairmont, lost 64-32 to Jackson County Central and dropped a 68-40 decision to Waseca. The three straight losses dropped the Bucs to 9-9, and Cue feared his young team wouldn’t handle the adversity.

“To their credit, they came back strong,” Cue said. “A lot of teams might have cashed it in at that point, but these players showed their resilience and their determination. They refused to get down on themselves.”

The resolute Bucs ended the regular season at 13-11, won four straight playoff games and now will play in the first round of today’s Class AA state tournament. It is the Bucs’ first trip to the state tournament, where they will take on top-ranked Jordan at 8 p.m. at Target Center.

“To be honest, I thought reaching the state tournament was a longshot before the season started,” Cue said. “We lost five starters off last year’s team and had a lot of inexperience coming back.”

Unlike a lot of teams, where one or two girls step up and lead the charge, Blue Earth Area has formed into a balanced squad where all five starters average between 7.9 and 8.9 points per game. They’ve also bought into Cue’s notion that defense wins games.

“That’s what we did in the playoffs,” Cue said, “we played great defense. And the players are very unselfish. Each of our five starters has led us in scoring during different games this season.”

Five-foot-10 junior forward Kate Hassing is averaging 8.9 points per game and has accumulated 187 rebounds. Senior forward Jackie Klinkner (5-9) is averaging 8 points per game with 93 assists, 60 steals and 180 rebounds. Sophomore point guard Ashley Olson (5-4) is scoring 8.5 points and has 52 assists. She saw limited playing time until the end of January when she recovered from injury.

Junior forward Morgan Dickman (5-7) is averaging 8.5 points, and junior guard Meghan Mittelstadt (5-4) has also been a big contributor since rejoining the team three weeks ago off an injury.

“Having Ashley and Meghan back full-time has really helped us,” Cue said. “They complement the other players very well.”

The unranked Buccaneers have a tough task ahead of them tonight against No. 1-rated Jordan (26-2). The Jaguars are making their third straight trip to state and finished second in last year’s tournament. Seniors Leah Dietel and Brittany Chambers have both scored more than 2,000 career points. Chambers is averaging 23.7 points and Dietel is at 19.5 points and 10.1 rebounds.

“It’s not the easiest matchup for us,” Cue admitted. “They’ll be taller than us so we’re going to have to rely on our quickness on defense.

“One thing we don’t want to do is get into a running game with them, because that’s their strength. If we can dictate the tempo we should be in it.”

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