The Central Lakes College Raiders had three goals this season: do well in the preseason, win the division title, and win the region tournament.
With two of the three already accomplished, the Raiders are on their way to a possible dream season.
The Raiders ended the regular season with a smashing 81-69 home victory over Rochester before a high-energy crowd, giving them the No. 1 seed for the region tournament and the Southern Division championship.
“It was a great win,” CLC coach Jim Russell said. “It was a great confidence-booster since we lost our last game against Fergus.
“The environment on our campus was awesome. Steve Anderson singing the national anthem was great, the band was great, and the community support was just awesome.
“We left with a really good feeling with how well we played. It was an intense game and it definitely prepared us for this upcoming weekend and we’re excited for that.”
The pressure of the conference title on the line added extra fire for the starters and added a spark to the bench.
“The last win was really different in a lot of ways,” said Russell. “We felt like we were playing with a little edge. The five starters had a certain determination to play well. They played very good defense and we got the spark that we needed from the bench.
“There was some urgency with that game, so all that being said, it’s a good feeling and hopefully we’ll carry that into the next game.”
Friday night at Anoka-Ramsey, the Raiders will play their first MCAC tournament game against Northern Division No. 4 seed Mesabi Range, a team the Raiders have yet to play this year.
“I think it’s good,” Russell said of playing Mesabi. “The reason I think it’s good is they don’t know our style or our pace of play so we’re excited for that. It’s a good challenge for us to play someone new.
“It’s going to be a very exciting tournament this year. There’s nobody who dominates. Every team has the capability of winning the whole thing. We’ve played everyone except Mesabi, so we know where we stand and what we’re capable of doing. But just like any tournament you’ve got to take care of the first game.”
While the Raiders’ success has taken effort from the entire team, much of their success can be attributed to sophomores Maurice Hernandez, Kwamaine Johnson, and Ronnie Kornbaum, who have emerged as leaders and key players.
“Hernandez is one who’s carried us quite bit, Johnson has come through and helped us out, and the way Kornbaum has played offensively, he’s a big threat from the 3-point line, he’s a competitor, he loves the game, and plays it with such passion,” said Russell. “These guys have really stepped up. They’re taking some ownership of the team and that was our goal for these sophomores.”
Freshmen Brandon Davis and Michael Farrington have also made a name for themselves this season.
“Brandon Davis is very good for us,” said Russell, “probably the most consistent player we’ve had. His defense and rebounding is good and he’s picking up the scoring role.
“The big surprise is Farrington. He’s playing well and he’s played well all year. He’s carried us in the sense of handling the basketball and making all the assists he needs to make. The team has really come out and really taken their roles and the bench has done the same thing. It’s really them all rubbing off on each other.”
With the regular season behind them, the Raiders are confident as they enter the region and move toward their ultimate goal of going to New York for the national tournament in March.
“For us to win the conference outright was really awesome because we always talked about things, taking care of themselves and things you can’t control but it’s time to play in this tournament,” Russell said. “We’re ready.”