The 2015-16 Minnesota high school basketball season begins with Breckenridge on top of the boys basketball rankings for the area and Ada-Borup at No. 1 in the girls basketball rankings.
Last season: 21-8, lost in the Class 2A quarterfinals to Maple River 78-72
Last season, Breckenridge made it to the state tournament for the first time since 1979. The Cowboys lose big man Nate Lorenz and guard Nate Blaufuss, but they return Hunter Aigner, Stevin Lipp and Ashton Hegge.
In the state quarterfinal game last season, Hegge had 17 points, five assists and four rebounds and Lipp had 14 points.
Cowboys are a big man away from being last season’s team, but with more experience.
Last season: 12-15, lost in the Class 2A, Section 8 quarterfinals to Hawley 59-37
After five straight seasons well above the .500 mark, Perham was below .500 last season. The expectations are back for a team that was 123-27 with three trips to state and a state title in the five seasons before last season.
The Yellowjackets have a lot of experience back with Jenson Beachy, Jaden Anderson, Reid Moser and Zach Tellinghuisen. Aaron Solberg also finished last season strong.
Anderson averaged 9.8 points, three assists and 2.8 rebounds a game last season and Beachy averaged 12 points, three rebounds and 1.7 assists.
3. Battle Lake
Last season: 30-3, lost in the Class 1A semifinals to Maranatha Christian 74-69
It sounds like Tony Ukkelberg is not going to be able to play this basketball season, which is devastating for Battle Lake. Ukkelberg had surgery after knee issues during the football season.
Ukkelberg averaged close to 17 points for Battle Lake last season, hitting 60 percent of his shots from the field and 50 percent of his 3-pointers. He led the Battlers to their first state tournament win in program history, but an ankle injury held him out of the semifinal game.
Battlers also lose Petric VanErp, who averaged 16.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals a game, and their big man in Nick Trosdahl to graduation. They also lost their sixth man to graduation in Micah Rogness.
They return starters Andrew VanErp and Eric VanErp. Battlers are going to need someone to help the two VanErps.
Last season: 9-16, lost in the first round of the Class 2A, Section 8 tournament 55-53
D-G-F was one 3-pointer away from beating the team that made it to the state tournament in Breckenridge.
The Rebels lost their last six and 13 of their last 15 games. It wasn’t a pretty end. That doesn’t take away three tight games with state-bound Breckenridge during the season that ended in three losses by a combined 10 points.
D-G-F was right on the brink of huge wins throughout the season, but fell just short. The good news is they return a lot. Four seniors in Blake Kragnes, Cole Tahran, Gunnar Payne and Jay Wadeson, along with juniors Ethan Edeen, Kyle Rothschadl and Spencer Ewen.
In the playoff loss to Breckenridge, all D-G-F’s 53 points came from players back this season.
Last season: 23-5, lost in the Class 1A, Section 6 semifinals to Hillcrest Lutheran Academy 53-44
The health of Darius Woods-Steichen is the key. He broke his hand during football season and he will be the catalyst of the basketball team. With Ukkelberg being hurt for Battle Lake, the section is up for grabs.
If Woods-Steichen is hurt for Waubun then it’s anyone’s section.
The Bombers lose Jordan Spaeth and Cole Thompson to graduation, but return Peyton Syerson, Dayton Makey and Justin Bellefuille.
Last season: 12-15, lost in first playoff game to Albany 75-57
The Otters have size with Matt Monke. They showed last season they could hit a lot of 3-pointers. Now, they’re hoping 6-foot-5 Monke develops inside to give them a down-low presence.
Monke led the team with 128 rebounds last season, Isaiah Lemke led the team in assists and Eiljah Colbeck was named the most improved player on the team. All three are back.
Nathan Rund was a freshman last season and he earned all-conference honors last season with Lemke getting honorable mention.
Otters have the pieces.
Hillcrest Lutheran Academy
Last season: 23-5, lost in the Class 1A, Section 6 championship game to Battle Lake 59-55
There’s no replacing Jake Isaac, who graduated. He averaged 21.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists a game for Hillcrest last season.
The Comets do have junior Reggie Undseth, who plays good defense and can score, and Chris Tungseth, who can fill it up. The Comets will need some big bodies to help down low.
If Ukkelberg is done for the season and Woods-Steichen is gone for awhile, Hillcrest could grab the section.
Last season: 32-0, Class 1A state champions
The good news for the Cougars is they won a state title with just three seniors on the team. The bad news is those three seniors were a huge reason behind the state championship.
Lexi Merkens, Miki Lee and Haley Poehler were huge parts of last season’s state championship. Merkens averaged nearly 15 points and more than five rebounds a game, while shooting 45 percent from the field and 35 percent from the 3-point line. She also averaged 3.62 assists and 2.55 steals a game.
Morgan Miller returns, as does point guard Lexi Nelson and guard Elizabeth Birkemeyer. The Cougars are a well-oiled machine.
Until they prove otherwise, they’re No. 1.
Last season: 15-10, lost in first playoff game to Buffalo 52-45
This could be a little high for a team that has not won a playoff game since 2007, but Moorhead has a ton of talent.
It all starts with point guard Sam Haiby. As a freshman last season she averaged 20.7 points, 5.8 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 steals a game. She shot 41 percent from the field and had a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Frightening to think she’s only a sophomore. Speaking of frightening, it’s hard to imagine how scary Brooke Tonsfeldt is for an opponent. She’s tall, can rebound, can shoot and is scary in volleyball when there’s a net separating the two teams. In basketball, she gets to knock people around.
Tonsfeldt is the perfect compliment to Haiby. Haiby is the quiet leader of the offense, whereas Tonsfeldt will handle the dirty work. With Tonsfeldt being a junior, there’s another year of these two together.
Along with those two, the Spuds have 5-foot-11 Brianna Carney at center. This is a Spuds team with everything. The scary thing is the team is still young.
Last season: 18-8, lost in the Class 2A, Section 8 quarterfinals to Pelican Rapids 60-56
D-G-F has a lot of talent returning from last season with Minnesota State Moorhead commit Alyson Brenna, Natalie Steichen, Ally Reno, Frannie Mercil, Faith Anderson and Anna Smith at center.
The Rebels graduated just three from last season. Brenna can hit a shot from anywhere, Steichen and Reno play great defense, Anderson can jump out of the building, Smith can handle the paint and Mercil does the intangibles.
They also all have experience with everyone having played at least three years of varsity basketball.
D-G-F is built to win.
Last season: 15-14, lost in the Class 2A, Section 8 section championship in overtime to Roseau 63-59
Barnesville got to the section championship with a freshman and a sophomore being two of their best players in the form of freshman guard Nicole Herbranson and sophomore center Peyton Boom.
It’ll be tough to replace Alli Skogen, Rachel Solum and Megan Nielsen, but there’s a ton of talent between Herbranson and Boom.
As a freshman, Herbranson showed no fear at the point and Boom showed no fear as a sophomore in the paint. Put parts around those two aspects and the Trojans look like a contender.
5. Pelican Rapids
Last season: 19-9, lost in the Class 2A, Section 8 semifinals to Barnesville 49-36
Hard to imagine a team with the conference co-MVP can be the third team listed from the conference, but that’s how the Heart O’ Lakes and 8AA will be this season.
Mackenzie Korf is that MVP. After an ACL tear in February of her sophomore season, Korf answered with a junior season where she averaged 18.5 points, 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.8 steals.
A huge loss will be Lincoln Haiby. She was a double-double machine, averaging 14.9 points and 9.4 rebounds last season for the Vikings.
The Vikings will look to have Grace Forsgren and Hally Evenson fill Haiby’s shoes.
Last season: 22-4, lost in the Class 2A, Section 8 quarterfinals in overtime to Barnesville 47-43
Calling Hawley a sleeper is baffling, but that’s how 8AA is set up this season. Every game in the HOL is going to be a dogfight and the Nuggets lost four starters to graduation.
The Nuggets still have conference co-MVP Mira Ellefson. She averaged 18.3 points and 8.08 rebounds a game, while shooting 54 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from 3-point land. She shot 77 percent at the free-throw line and averaged 2.62 steals, 2.62 assists and a block a game.
Ellefson did everything, but she had a ton of talent around her last season. Now, she’s the star.
Players will have to emerge to fill the shoes of Jody Noreen and Olivia Olson, who graduated.
Chris Murphy can be reached at 701-241-5548 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SeeMurphsTweets for Minnesota prep updates and smart alecky remarks about sports, movies, music and life in general.