Panthers begin quest

The Cass Lake-Bena boys basketball team returns to the state tournament for the second consecutive season today and will open up the Class A tournament against the top-rated team in the state.

The Cass Lake-Bena boys basketball team returns to the state tournament for the second consecutive season today and will open up the Class A tournament against the top-rated team in the state.

The Panthers will play No. 1 ranked Bertha-Hewitt at 1 p.m. today at Mariucci Arena on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis.

The winner moves on to the state semifinal round and will get some state exposure. The loser goes home.

"They certainly don't want to lose the first game to us because if you win, you get on TV and you are assured two more games at state."

The state semifinal and championship will be aired on KSTC. Should the Panthers advance, they will play at 1 p.m. Friday at Target Center.


Bertha-Hewitt enters the tournament as the Section 5 champion with an undefeated record of 28-0.

"We think they are good, but we are playing real competitive and we're going to continue to play well," Ninham said. "We want to win three games in a row."

Cass Lake-Bena is a complete team, led by guard Martin Wind, forward Nate Salscheider, forward Joel Salscheider and the outside shooting of Nate Howard.

The Panthers are making their fourth overall appearance at the state tournament.

This year marks Bertha-Hewitt's second consecutive and fourth overall state appearance.

The Bears lost in the quarterfinals last season.

This 2008 Bears average 71.6 points per game and set a school record for most wins in a season. Senior John Hartung is the leading scorer at 15.1 points per game.

The Panthers expect Bertha-Hewitt to try and slow the game down, which is in direct contrast with Cass Lake-Bena's high-pressure defense and fast-paced game.


"Every team has tried to do that against us this season," Ninham said, referring to opponents strategies to slow down the Panthers. "The key for us is to find those streaks, those points in a row and those runs."

Other quarterfinal games today at Mariucci Arena pit Section 1 champion Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton against Section 4 champion Minnesota Transitions Chater School at 11 a.m., with the winner advancing to face the Cass Lake-Bena-Bertha-Hewitt winner in the semifinal.

J-W-P (20-10) is making its third appearance at state and first since 1997. The Bulldogs are a run-and-gun transition-based team led by seniors Tyler Witt, Josh Kopachek and Jacob Schrom. Witt can hit 3-pointers while Kopachek and Schrom are the tall players at 6-foot-4.

Minnesota Transitions (26-4) average 94 points per game this season and are making their debut appearance at state. Sophomore Kevin Noreen leads the Wolves with 29.2 points per game.

Neither J-W-P or Minnesota Transitions was ranked in the final Associated Press (AP) poll.

In the lower bracket, defending state champion and Section 3 champion Ellsworth takes on Section 2 Grenada-Huntley-East Chain at 3 p.m.

No. 3-ranked Granada-Huntley-East Chain (25-2) are making their debut tournament appearance. Junior Tim Garry and senior Dan Stensland average 14.3 points per game. The Mustangs shoot 53.1 percent from the field and average 70.3 points per game.

Ellsworth (28-2), which defeated Cass Lake-Bena in the championship game last season, is ranked No. 4 in the final AP poll and is making its third consecutive state appearance.


Ellsworth averages 81.8 points per game and limit opponents to 55.8 points per game. Senior Cody Schilling averages 27.9 points per game and is 23 points away from becoming the state's all-time leading scorer. Schilling also leads Ellsworth with 9.5 rebounds per game.

Also in the lower bracket, Section 7 champion Chisholm plays Section 6 champion Norman County East at 5 p.m.

Norman County East (24-5) is making its second appearance after winning the Class A title in 1998.

David Varriano, a senior, is the team's top scorer. He averages 17.4 points per game. Junior Tyler Bennefeld adds 15.5 points per game and leads the Eagles with 11.6 rebounds per game. Norman County East averages 67.2 points per game.

The Chisholm Bluestreaks (24-6) return to make their 17th appearance and first since 1995. They won state titles in 1934, 1973, 1975 and 1991.

Junior Taylor Skoglund, who averages 20.7 points per game, has more than 1,000 career points. Skoglund also leads the Bluestreaks with 9.8 rebounds per game. Chisholm averages 67.6 points per game. Neither Norman County East or Chisholm was ranked in the final AP poll.

In a scheduling quirk where all first-round games are played at Mariucci Arena, - a hockey arena -- some have raised concerns with potential difficulties in playing at that type of venue. The two most common concerns are the cold and the depth of field behind the basket.

Ninham isn't concerned.


"Ryan Phelps from Minnesota Sports Radio addressed it like it was a big deal and it's really not," Ninham said. "We've been playing in places like this all year. We played the section tournament at Ralph Engelstad Arena, and that's a hockey rink. We're used to it."

Ninham added, "I'm highly confident we can get after it," Ninham said."


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