MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- It's not exactly the return of the prodigal son, but when Kraig Ulveling takes second-ranked Red Wing into the Class 3A semifinals against Mankato East, it will be a homecoming of sorts. But Ulveling hopes that at least one person in Mankato won't remember the good old days.
Ulveling's first coaching job after he graduated from Mankato State was at Mankato East, where he coached the freshmen. One of his best players that season (1981-82) was Joe Mattson, now Mankato East's assistant coach.
''We've kept a great friendship,'' Ulveling said. ''And that's a team that's played a lot of good teams all year in the Big Nine.''
Red Wing (21-4) earned a berth in the tournament, which starts Tuesday, with a win over No. 2 Rochester Mayo, winners of 23 in a row prior to the Wingers 57-49 section final win Friday. The only other team to beat Mayo was Mankato East, 58-49 in December.
''We had a great effort against Mayo and that's the same kind of effort we're going to need against Mankato East,'' Ulveling said.
Jed Riegelman had 24 points against Mayo and his defense could hold the key against the Cougars (18-8).
''Everything that we do revolves around our defense,'' Ulveling said. ''We try to play great defense and let everything else revolve around that.''
Adam Witt and Paul Gordon are also keys to the Red Wing attack. Witt is the Wingers' best perimeter player.
''I think they're a prohibitive favorite, but we're not a slouch by any stretch of the imagination. Our record is reasonably deceiving,'' said Mankato coach Dave Johnson.
But the Cougars are peaking at the right time. They've won 10 straight since a mid-February loss to Austin. On the ride home, Johnson decided to shuffle his lineup, which meant three seniors were out as starters. He said that was one of the most difficult decisions of his 30-year coaching career.
''It's worked,'' Johnson said. ''Again, it could have been disastrous from a morale standpoint. You have sometimes during a season some things that go on where some kids don't get along. These three kids have accepted it very, very well.''
Logan Olafson, Noah Metcalfe and Torey Palmer were sent to the bench and juniors David Larson and J.R. Schulte were named starters. Sophomore Mark Rivers was brought up from the junior varsity.
One benefit of shuffling the lineup is that the Cougars have proven players on their bench, which Johnson said could be a key in keeping up with Red Wing's frenetic pace.
''We're really going to have to play solid team defense, which we've done the last few games,'' Johnson said.
Both teams lost in the quarterfinals last year. Red Wing lost 71-53 to North St. Paul and Mankato East fell to eventual champion Highland Park 80-67.
In Class 4A, the team to watch is second-ranked Tartan, which has a hungry and driven Jake Sullivan focused on bringing a title home to Oakdale.
Among the small schools, both defending champions are back for another try. No. 5 DeLaSalle (20-6) plays Redwood Valley (22-4) in the first round in Class 2A. The Islanders are seeking their third straight title.
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