Not only did the Mayer Lutheran boys’ basketball team have to adjust to a new coach this season, the Crusaders also had to adjust to an entirely new system of basketball.
In his inaugural year at LHS, head coach Dan Perrel coached the Crusaders to an 18-11 season, a second place Minnesota River Conference finish, and upset two section teams to land in the Section 5AA finals in March.
Teaching every team member to be a force on both ends of the court was a new way of thinking about the game for the LHS players and it took awhile to adjust and really buy into Perrel’s concepts, he said. The struggle was evident as the Crusaders began the season 0-4.
“They had no clue how to do what I was asking them to do,” Perrel said. “To their credit, they kept trying it.”
Eventually, things began to click for the team as the Crusaders won their first game, a defeat of then-undefeated conference rival Norwood Young America on Dec. 20. They went on to defeat Jordan two weeks later.
“I think that really sort of got them going,” Perrel said.
What had been just a 1-5 season quickly turned into an 11-5 season in a matter of weeks. From Dec. 28 – Jan. 28, Mayer Lutheran hit a ten-game win streak, defeating six conference teams, as well as BOLD, Southwest Christian, Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity, and Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop.
Like the cliche says, all good things must come to an end, as they did mid-February for LHS. The Crusaders hit a bit of a hiccup in their successful season when they lost to Tri-City United on Feb. 14. The Titans, who had recently come off a nine-game losing streak, took down LHS 65-57.
“We played awful at the same time they played really well,” Perrel said.
After the TCU game, things snowballed for the Crusaders, as the team was hit with three illnesses, multiple injuries, and the team’s then-leading scorer, Mike Vigil, transferring schools mid-season.
“We patched together a group and played jv guys on varsity,” Perrel said, adding that the injuries and illnesses gave the team a rest. While the minute-heavy players were out, it gave other athletes a chance to play.
“It turned out good, but it was weird,” Perrel said.
After the “horrendous” Tri-City game, the Crusaders defeated LeSueur-Henderson and Watertown-Mayer before finishing the regular season with losses to Holy Family Catholic and Heritage Christian.
Mayer Lutheran finished the conference with a 10-4 record, good enough for second place behind Jordan (12-2).
The Crusaders were seeded fourth in Section 5AA – South and defeated No. 5 NYA in the first round on March 7. Two days later, Mayer Lutheran pulled off an upset of No. 1 Jordan, and went on to defeat No. 2 Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted 47-45 in the section semifinals.
In their first section final in recent team history, the Crusaders fell to No. 2 (North) Annandale 60-38 on March 15 to end the season, narrowly missing a chance at state. Annandale went on to finish third in the Class AA state tournament.
The Crusaders lose three seniors this year in Dustin Edmison, Tanner Luebke, and Phil Burfeind. With just three seniors graduating, the Crusaders will return a host of experienced juniors, including Chad Anenson, Joel Burfeind, Cole Buttenhoff, Anthony Gruenhagen, Brandon Wroge, and Mason Diedrick, along with sophomore Taylor Otterstatter and freshman Sam Schlueter.
Perrel said the team’s level of progress next season will depend on its continued level of learning.
“It’s really still just a building stage, a year is not enough,” he said. “In order to make the steps that go further (state tournament), the level of understanding in complexity of offense has to go up.”
Perrel said the team spent the 2012-13 season focused on becoming a formidable defensive team, barely scraping the surface of offensive work. Next year, Perrel aims to teach the team a complicated offense.
Beyond the players, Perrel said the group of parents behind the students made a big difference in the program this season, bolstering the concept of a true team over individual achievements.
“These are the most supportive parents I’ve ever seen,” Perrel said.
Despite not having spent much time working on offense, the Crusaders became a strong offensive team during the season, with many players topping 100 points. Gruenhagen led the team with over 200 points this season, while Buttenhoff, Vigil, and Luebke hovered around 150 points. Schlueter and Anenson also broke the triple-digit point ceiling.
Luebke, Anenson, and Gruenhagen were awarded All-Conference honors, while Schlueter was All-Conference Honorable Mention.
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