by Bob San
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
The Orioles girls’ basketball team are seeded fourth in this year’s state tournament and will play fifth seeded St. Paul Central in the quarterfinal at noon on Wednesday, March 13. The winner will take on the victor of the Hopkins-St. Michael-Albertville game in the semifinal at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 14. The state championship game is Saturday, March 16. All games are at the Target Center.
Defending state champ Hopkins is the No. 1 seed, Bloomington Kennedy 2, Eastview 3, Osseo is 4, St. Paul Central 5. St. Michael-Albertville, Anoka and Rochester Mayo are not seeded.
The Orioles went to state last year with stars players Mikayla Bailey, Olivia Antilla, Phillis Webb and Janay Morton leading the way and took second place. The graduation of Bailey and Antilla and several other seniors left first-year head coach John Rieser with a mostly inexperienced squad. The Orioles hung around the .500 mark the first part of the season but lost four straight games — three in the holiday tournament and the first game of 2013 against Maple Grove. Not many people, including some of the younger Orioles, expected Osseo to repeat last year’s success.
“It still hasn’t hit me yet. I am really shocked we are going to state,” said junior guard Madi Malone. “It was a hard start, a really rough start to the season. We really didn’t know what we were going to do because so many seniors left us. From the beginning we thought we could go to state but we needed to prove ourselves and then it finally came to us and we got it. We didn’t think we’d be here but we are really grateful for it.”
But Rieser and senior leaders Morton and Webb were optimistic this team could progress and do well. Riser knew he inherited a team with good senior leadership and talented youngsters who have the potentials to excel.
“I don’t think as a team you can ever go into a season and say, ‘Oh, OK we can’t compete,” Rieser said. “We knew we have some competitors on the team. It was just a matter of us bringing some of the younger kids along and getting them to buy into our system and what we were doing. As the year goes on they did that. There were some bumps on the road and we expected that and we played through them. We just never crumble as a team. We have stayed together the whole time and they’ve worked hard and it paid off.”
“No. I am not surprised,” Morton said of her team’s success. “I knew they wanted it. Everyday at practice they were working hard like they wanted it. Despite all of them coming in from JV I knew they were ready to play at this level this year.”
“I expect nothing less than what we did last season,” Webb said. “Each group of seniors is unique and as seniors this year we have to step up.”
With Morton and Webb leading the way, the young Orioles kept improving and by the end of the regular season, they are a very competitive team. They beat Centennial, the only team to defeat No. 1 Hopkins this season, to earn a tie for the conference championship. Then they beat Centennial again and fourth-ranked Roseville in a very tough section to earn a repeat trip to the state tournament.
“Part of me is going wild but we set some goals at the beginning of the year and we believe we have the kids who can do it,” Rieser said after the section final. “It’s a little bit unbelievable but we feel like we could compete with Roseville and reach our goal of going to the state tournament.”
Last year, Osseo was unseeded but defeated White Bear Lake and Edina to reach the final before losing to Hopkins. As the fourth seed, the Orioles will again be the underdogs if they win in the first round. It’s a role Morton said the Orioles are getting used to.
“We accept that,” Morton said. “We were the underdogs in the section. We won the conference and we still had the three seed behind Centennial. We knew Roseville was talking about how confident they were as the 1 seed and that they had it in the bag. But we came up on top. We are athletic, we get the ball up the court, we have smart basketball players, so I believe we will make a run at state.”
Now even the younger Orioles are excited about the prospect of playing at the Target Center.
“Last year we went to state I was JV so I didn’t get to play,” Malone said. “This year we are going to get the whole team involved and we plan on getting everybody in there and we plan on taking it all this year.”
“We were the underdogs, especially in the state tournament last year,” senior Belinda Barfknecht said. “Hopefully we will be the underdogs again this year and show up in the state championship game.”
Rieser said his team has made tremendous progress since the beginning of the season and will give any team a good run. Since that loss to Maple Grove in early January, the Orioles went 14-2 the rest of the season to finish with a 21-8 overall record. Osseo goes into the state tournament with lots of confidence.
“We’ve always felt like we can compete with anybody,” Rieser said. “Now we just have to go out and prove it at the next level.”
Contact Bob San at [email protected]