The Rockford Rockets want a track meet.
The Crosby-Ironton Rangers want a chess match.
Whichever team controls the tempo of Wednesday's Class 2A state quarterfinal game should play again Friday in the semifinals.
It's a speed vs. size match as the Rangers front court of Derek Swanhorst (6-foot-4, 265 pounds), Joel McLaughlin (6-4, 210) and Kody Bartels (6-4) will contend with Rockford's three 1,000-point speedsters in Nick Haugen (2,300 career points), Nathan Maher (1,150) and Luke Mernin (1001).
With both Rockford and C-I on the road Tuesday, Pierz head coach Kurt Stumpf and Hawley head coach Trevor Peterson were asked to give their thoughts on the matchup. Pierz and Rockford are in the Central Minnesota Conference. Hawley played Rockford during the regular season and both coaches scouted C-I.
Crosby-Ironton's Kody Bartels looked for an open teammate during the Rangers' Section 8-2A final victory last week at Bemidji. C-I will face Rockford at noon Wednesday in the 2A state boys' basketball tournament. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
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"(Nathan) Maher, who is 6-foot-2, will have to guard Derek Swanhorst and that presents a tough matchup for them," said Stumpf. "Don't get me wrong, Maher is tough, but it will be interesting to see those two down low. It's going to be fun to see the Bryce Tesdahl-Nick Haugen matchup. Both are tremendous players."
Haugen has 556 total points this season and is averaging 18.5 a game for the 28-2 Rockets. He's shooting 53 percent from the field and 77 percent from the line.
Tesdahl has 521 total points for 17.4 a game. He's shooting 47 percent from the field and 78 percent from the line to go with 310 assists (10.0 per game) and199 rebounds.
"Rockford is going to press and make it a track meet," said Stumpf. "They'll play a full-court press, but they won't trap that first pass. They'll do a 2-2-1 press and they'll really try to force some lob passes and look to pick those off.
Class 2A state quarterfinals
Who: Crosby-Ironton Rangers vs. Rockford Rockets
When: Noon, Wednesday
Where: Mariucci Arena, campus of University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
At stake: Trip to state semifinals vs. La Crescent/St. Bernard's winner 6 p.m. Friday, Target Center, Minneapolis
"You would think they would drop back into a zone, but I wouldn't be surprised if they went man."
Said Peterson, who is the son of Staples-Motley head coach Lynn Peterson: "They are the fastest team I've ever seen in my life as far as pushing the tempo. While they do create steals off of their press, I think they use it more to rush the other team into a lot of quick shots.
"I'm really anxious to see how this game turns out because Rockford and C-I are totally different teams. It's an intriguing match up. C-I works so well together and play so well together. I don't envision that Rockford's press is going to give C-I a whole lot of trouble, but they may use it to tire Tesdahl and Swanhorst out because C-I doesn't go very deep on its bench."
The sixth-ranked Rockets, winners of six straight, are averaging 74.2 points a game and holding teams to 58.7. They're shooting 50.1 percent from the field. C-I (30-0) is averaging 79.3 points and holding opponents to 53.7. It is shooting 52 percent from the field and holding teams to 40 percent.
Aside from Haugen, Maher is averaging 11.9 points per game with 224 total rebounds. Lucas Mernin is averaging 16.5 points and Mike Mernin averages 11.0 points with 195 assists.
"Overall, Rockford's top four are between the Mernin brothers, Maher and Haugen," said Stumpf. "They've all led them in scoring throughout the year. At times they'll run sets for them, but Haugen looks to get a lot of shots. The two Mernin's will look to get the outlet pass and go."
Rockford's two losses came against Kimball (58-55) Feb. 7 and Maple Lake (55-52) Feb. 29. The Rockets avenged both of those losses, including a 64-58 victory over Maple Lake in the Section 5-2A title game.
"Rockford is an exceptional offensive team," said Stumpf. "Defensively they've really come around. I thought they were susceptible on defense throughout the regular season, but they worked out their issues and have really become a good man defense team."
Said Peterson: I could see Rockford going into a 1-2-2 or 3-2 zone, especially out of their 2-2-1 full court press. The weird thing is they'll fall back into a man-to-man, which teams don't do well at, but they are so smart they can do that. What makes it easy for them is that Rockford is all about the same size and so it doesn't matter who they pick up. I don't think that will work against C-I. In fact I would be crazy if I said it would work against them."
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