The Central Lakes College Raiders women's basketball team will make its seventh straight state tournament appearance when the Minnesota Community College State Tournament tips off Friday.
The Raiders will be the host team as the tournament will be played Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Central Lakes College.
The tournament features Minnesota's eight top community college teams, four each from the Northern and Southern divisions of the Minnesota Community College Conference.
Women's State Community College Basketball Tournament
At Central Lakes College, Brainerd
Fergus Falls vs. Anoka-Ramsey 1 p.m.
Rainy River vs. Ridgewater 3 p.m.
Central Lakes vs. Rochester 6 p.m.
Bethany vs. Mesabi 8 p.m.
Consolation 1 p.m.
Consolation 3 p.m.
Semifinal 6 p.m.
Semifinal 8 p.m.
Fifth place noon
Third place 2 p.m.
Championship 4 p.m.
The Raiders, with their 10-4 conference record and 13-10 overall mark, are the North Division's fourth seed. They will face Rochester, the second seed from the South, at 6 p.m. Friday in the third game of the quarterfinals.
"Rochester was the co-champion in the south," said Raiders coach Dennis Eastman. "They lost a coin flip with Bethany so they come in as the second seed. They have the state's leading scorer, so of course our first big key will be to stop her."
Rochester brings an 8-2 conference (18-5 overall) record into the tournament and prefers to play a fast-paced game.
"We won't want to get into a running game with Rochester," said Eastman, "because that's what they do. We'll have to try, slow down and bang on them. I think we can take advantage of our inside game with them. I think we'll be more physical."
One key to the Raiders' inside game will be the return of Anna Struss, who has been effective in spelling 6-foot Amy Martinson at the post. This weekend, Struss will likely see more minutes playing along side Martinson.
"What we'll probably do is stick Anna in there with Marty and try to get a bigger lineup," said Eastman. "We'll spell Marty from time to time but she's going to have to expect to play from 35 to 38 minutes per game. She's that much of a force inside. She's our leader. When you're playing for a state championship you have to have your leaders out there."
If the Raiders have shown any weakness this season, it's been the trouble they've had handling a full-court press. Eastman has been working with his team to improve that phase of its game. The play of Raiders point guard Heather Olson will be key to CLC's performance against pressing defenses.
"That's been our nemesis, our Achilles heel," said Eastman. "If we can handle the press, which we should be able to, everything else is fine. When we handle the press, we usually end up with fast breaks and that's what we're hoping for. Heather will have to go fast but she'll have to play under control."
Should the Raiders get past Rochester, their second-round opponent would likely be Fergus Falls, a team that has beaten the Raiders twice in less than two weeks.
"We may do some things differently," said Eastman. "Offensively, we will. I purposely hold some things back during the season that we've been working on for a while. We'll throw in a couple of new wrinkles to make the other teams adjust a little.
"Again, most of the time we'll go with what brought us here, and that was heart, good man-to-man defense, working the ball inside and getting our threes when we can."
Besides the CLC-Rochester matchup, the first round of the tournament will pair the No. 1 seed from the North, Fergus Falls (13-1 in conference, 19-5 overall) against the South's fourth seed, Anoka Ramsey (4-6, 8-13). The No. 2 seed from the North, Rainy River (10-4, 15-7) will face the South's third seed, Ridgewater (7-3, 16-5).
The final first-round pairing pits Bethany (8-2, 14-7) the top seed from the South, against Mesabi (8-6, 16-9), the fourth seed from the North.
"This is probably one of the most even state tournaments I've ever seen," said Eastman. "You have five or six teams here that, on a good day, anybody can beat anybody. You also have Mesabi in there. Right now I'd say they would be the tournament's darkhorse but they're hot.
"That's the scary part. Bethany has to go in and play Mesabi, probably the hottest team, right now, out of us all. If people decide to come and watch us play, they're going to see some very good basketball. There's no one in this tournament that's head and shoulders above the rest. And that should make for a very interesting tournament."
The top two finishers from the North, along with Fergus Falls, will advance to the Region 13 tournament. Fergus Falls earned its ticket into the region by winning the regular-season conference championship.
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