BY DAVE PEDERSEN
Rockford’s basketball teams are optimistic about the season with the return of players having major varsity minutes and leading scorers returning for both the Rocket girls and boys.
The boys were out of the gate first, falling 66-61 to Watertown-Mayer Friday. Rockford was competitive despite having two of the top three scorers from last year account for just two points. Plus, the team shot just 7 of 20 from the free throw line, going 0 for 9 in the second half.
Coach Michael Tauber returns five seniors and a junior from last year’s varsity. Senior Brock Deering, who led the team in scoring a year ago, paced the offense against WM with 21 points.
Sophomore Tommy Traen hit a 3-point shot to cut the lead to three with two minutes to play. Watertown-Mayer came down and answered with a 3-pointer to take away Rockford’s momentum.
Returning seniors are Robert Dumas, Deering, Nick Tully, Brendon Schumacher and Joe Agre. A newcomer is senior Zach Connell, a transfer from Maple Grove.
Juniors include Austin Hubbs, Jeremy Bingham and newcomer Ben Zilmer, a 6-5 center. Sophomore Carter Olsen also is 6-5. The other sophomores are Traen and James Monssen.
Watertown-Mayer is one of the strong teams in the new section that includes Breck, Annandale, St. Cloud Cathedral and Braham, all ranked in the top 10 in the state. In league play, state tourney entrant Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa has all seniors. Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted also is strong.
Rockford was invited to play in the border battle tournament with Wisconsin on Jan. 25, facing one of the top teams in the state from Stevens Point in Appleton.
Last year the Rockets started slow but won 13 of 17 games after the holiday break. Rockford next plays at Jordan Dec. 3 and at Maple Lake Dec. 6 for the first conference game.
Rocket girls coach James Carr also returns a strong nucleus, including four seniors and leading scorer Jordan Weeding. Captains are senior Abby Botten and junior Brianna Calder.
Other seniors are Tshiabli Lee and Megan Westrup. Juniors are Sam Bagaason, Calder and Lily Strecker. The strong sophomore class involves Emma Hawley, Hnubci Lee, Allison and Caitlin McNeal, Payton Palmer and Lauren Enge.
“I was real impressed with how so many players took part in our Rocket power lifting and speed training program during the summer,” says Carr. “They took advantage of becoming more athletic.”
The coach says the team lost a lot of rebounding presence in Katelynn Pedersen and Jayda Palmer, who averaged 12 rebounds per game. Carr adds how he is stressing it will be a team effort to rebound the basketball.
League contenders are Howard lake-Waverly-Winsted and Eden Valley-Watkins. Rockford opens the season at home against Annandale, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3. The Rockets play at Norwood-Young America Friday, Dec. 6.