Hillcrest bounces back from 10-win season to get berth in state boys basketball tournament
It's been a turnaround that happened so quickly, Gregg Preston's head is still spinning. Hillcrest Lutheran Academy won just 10 games and was bounced in the first-round of the section tournament last year. But the Comets flipped their fortunes th...
It's been a turnaround that happened so quickly, Gregg Preston's head is still spinning.
Hillcrest Lutheran Academy won just 10 games and was bounced in the first-round of the section tournament last year.
But the Comets flipped their fortunes this season to the tune of a sparkling 23-2 mark and a spot in Minnesota's state basketball tournament.
"Last year, these guys took their lumps," said Preston, the Comets' head coach. "They were playing as sophomores and juniors, and they got that year of experience.
"It was a baptism of fire, but here they are."
Last season, the Comets were also without Jared Schultz - the team's leading scorer this season at 14.6 points per game.
Schultz tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the first day of practice last season and got to watch from the bench for the rest of the year.
"Last year was tough and it made me extremely anxious for this year," Schultz said. "I just had to watch, and sitting on the bench not being able to help just killed me."
The Comets are more than happy to have him back, as he's been the leader of a balanced, efficient offense. HLA is shooting 46 percent from the field as a team. Collectively, the Comets also shoot 36 percent from 3-point range.
But this team is still playing because of its stellar defense. Hillcrest gives up just 44.6 points per game, which is tops in Class 1A.
"After the season was over last year, they set their sights on becoming the best defensive team they could," Preston said. "It's really paid off, and things have lined up for us."
The only thing that hasn't lined up is the gush of attention on the Comets. For a team with a 23-2 record, HLA has remarkably flown under the radar.
Hillcrest has not been ranked this season, despite the fact that only four teams boast better records, but that doesn't bother the Comets.
"It hasn't always been pretty or easy, but we've gotten comfortable with each other, and we find a way to get it done," Schultz said. "Even if people might not expect that much out of us, we're just going to keep playing our game."
The Comets will take on perennial power Ellsworth in today's first round.
The Panthers don't know anything about sweeping turnarounds, as this is their fifth straight state tournament appearance. Ellsworth has played in the last four Class 1A title games - winning two titles during that stretch.
"We're just treating this one like we treated our whole season, and in many ways, this challenge is very much like our season has been," Preston said. "They're a challenge, but we are treating it as one game.
"We're going to look at what we can do to slow things down where we can, and be prepared. That's all we can do."
That's worked pretty well so far.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Kerry Collins at (701) 241-5548