The Pequot Lakes Patriots are good, but are they good enough?
The Crosby-Ironton Rangers are enjoying a successful start, but can it last?
Do the Pine River-Backus Tigers have enough in their high-octane engine?
Can the Staples-Motley Cardinals make noise in a tough Section 6-2A?
Those questions will be answered during the winter marathon that follows the holiday break.
The Patriots are sitting at 6-1. Junior Emily Lueck has paced the up-tempo Patriots, but sister Mattie and Kylie Beltz have provided offensive punch, too.
Of Pequot's six wins, two have come against Class 3A schools (Little Falls and Detroit Lakes) and another was against Class 4A Brainerd. The one blemish came against last year's Section 8-2A champion East Grand Forks, which owns a 4-1 record and is favored to repeat as section champs.
"East Grand Forks is head and shoulders above everyone else in the north half of the subsection," said C-I coach Randy Swanhorst. "Our side, or the south side, is loaded in terms of strength. Anyone can knock off anyone. One big thing with our bracket is the No. 1 and No. 2 teams, if they win out, will get two home games and with the strength of our subsection playing at home is a huge advantage."
Hawley is 6-0 on the south side, with C-I at 4-1 and Perham, another possible favorite, sitting at 5-1.
Pequot's schedule won't get easier with a possible rematch with East Grand Forks or a game against Hawley in the Crookston tournament Dec. 28-29.
The Patriots play back-to-back games at Esko and then at Barnum. On Feb. 4, Pequot has a game against Bemidji and future University of Minnesota player Kayla Hirt. The 6-foot-2 junior scored 21 points against S-M Saturday, but is averaging 29 points a game.
Two games against C-I (Jan. 5 at Crosby and Feb. 11 at Pequot) also remain.
The exciting game will be Jan. 26 when Pequot hosts PR-B. It's a toss up whether it will be the highest-scoring game in each program's history or a turnover-fest because of the defensive pressure both teams apply.
The 6-0 Tigers' have outscored opponents 67.6 to 37.6 and have been led in scoring by four different players. They are one of three unbeaten teams remaining in Section 5-1A with the other two being Bertha-Hewitt (6-0) and Sebeka (3-0).
The team to beat, however, is top-ranked Barnum. The perennial power is 5-1, with the one loss coming against New Prague. Barnum posted 97 points against Onamia, 88 against Carlton, 73 against Fulda and 90 against Floodwood.
The Tigers travel Tuesday to Crosby for their annual matchup with C-I. The Rangers are allowing a Mid-State Conference low 35.8 points per game and also enjoy balanced scoring.
"That's just critical in high school basketball," said Swanhorst. "Defensively we like to exploit a team that doesn't have balance and make it tough on the players who score points.
"With us, to be honest I thought Jana (Anderson) and Katie (Swanhorst) would be our primary scorers, but Jana has been battling injuries and Katie hasn't shot the ball like she did before the season started and during the summer. When those two girls get on track that's really going to be a push for us."
C-I still has two games against Aitkin (Jan. 14 at Crosby and Feb. 23 at Aitkin), S-M (Jan. 15 at Staples and Feb. 26 in Crosby) and Pequot. It also travels Jan. 26 to Grand Rapids.
S-M's Nikki Pearson and Caitlin Robinson are back for what seems like their 10th year of varsity basketball. They have the Cardinals at 4-2 after losing to 4A's Bemidji Saturday. The other loss came against Pequot.
Robinson scored 35 points in the last two games, while Pearson has paced the squad in three of the other four games.
If the Cardinals hope to make a state appearance this season they'll have to get through top-ranked New London-Spicer and fourth-ranked Sauk Centre. At 5-1 Benson is no slouch either.
jeremy millsop, sports writer, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5856.
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