At 25-years-old, Hunter Salathe excited for his opportunity to lead the Minnewaska boys into the future

The Lakers began a new era on Saturday afternoon against a good Redwood Valley team as Minnewaska pushed the Cardinals in the season opener before falling in Salathe's first game on the sidelines for the Lakers as the head coach.

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First-year Minnewaska head coach Hunter Salathe encourages his team after a defensive stop against Redwood Valley during the Lakers' season opener on Dec. 4, 2021. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

First-year Minnewaska head coach Hunter Salathe did not ease into things for his head coaching debut with the Lakers.

Salathe took over the Minnewaska boys basketball program during the offseason after longtime head coach Phil Johnsrud retired . Up first on the schedule was a Redwood Valley team that returns the majority of its pieces from a 14-7 team.

The Cardinals have a roster made up entirely of 14 seniors. That includes 6-foot, 8-inch senior center Carson Woodford and good guards around him. That eventually wore down Minnewaska in the second half as the Cardinals extended a 32-25 halftime lead to 20 points in an eventual 68-50 win.

“We watched the game film from last year and they scored 97 points against us. I was thinking, ‘Crap,’” Salathe said with a smile. “That’s a team that’s going to shoot the ball. They’re really good at drive and kick, and they got a big guy who’s a lot bigger than our biggest guy. We just told our guys, ‘We got to play team defense. We got to scramble.’ They’re going to hit some shots, but if we work hard, we’re going to be in it.”


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Minnewaska sophomore guard Jack Majerus gets free for a layup against Redwood Valley on Dec. 4, 2021. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

The Lakers stuck close through about 25 minutes of game time before the Cardinals pulled away. Woodford will play collegiately at the University of Jamestown, and he had 17 points.

The attention Woodford draws in the paint also helps open up opportunities around him. Guard Charles LaChapelle and Alex Lang combined for five threes as LaChapelle finished with a game-high 21 points and Lang had 16.

“That team is loaded,” Salathe said. “Very experienced, guys who are athletic that are up on us on defense. With Carson in there, they have guys who can ball handle, get into the lane. If they get us to step up, they’re going to dump it off to the big guy for the finish. If we help in on a stunt, they’re going to kick it out for a three. They’re a dangerous team to play, but I know that my team’s going to get better today than they were yesterday.”

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Redwood Valley senior guard Charles LaChapelle puts in a floater between the Minnewaska defense on Dec. 4, 2021. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Minnewaska’s senior 6-foot, 5-inch forward Hunter Kostelecky is one of only a couple of returning players for the Lakers who has a lot of varsity experience. He was proud of the way Minnewaska played against a talented Cardinals program.

Kostelecky played with no fear offensively against Woodford in the post. He finished with a team-high 19 points as he took the ball aggressively to the basket throughout the day.


“I feel like we did awesome,” Kostelecky said. “We had a lot of turnovers, but that’s going to happen. We played well against a talented team.”

Senior guard Damon Uhde also scored 16 points for the Lakers, which included knocking down three triples.

“We know what Damon and Hunter can do for us, so a lot of our offense revolves around them,” Salathe said. “We’re trying to get them looks that can get them inside against other teams...Hunter can hit threes. They weren’t falling tonight, but he’s going to go in there and work his butt off and compete.”

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Minnewaska senior forward Hunter Kostelecky puts in a layup in front of the defense of Redwood Valley's Carson Woodford during the first half on Dec. 4, 2021. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

That’s what Salathe wants to see out of all of his guys, and in terms of the energy the Lakers played with, he liked what he saw on Saturday.

"I want them to go out there and give me their best effort every single time, have a positive attitude and just smile and have fun," Salathe said. "We want to go and win. I’m from a winning culture, so losing is something I don’t like and I’m not used to, but in that moment I just need to stop and think that every single one of these guys gave me their best effort tonight. That’s what I take away. Let’s go to practice the next day and learn from this."

At 25-years-old, Salathe is young compared to a lot of his varsity coaching counterparts. He grew up in Perham and played for one of the top Class AA programs in Minnesota with the Yellowjackets.


Salathe coached one year of 7th-grade basketball in Morris before spending the last two school years as a 7th-grade math teacher and 8th-grade basketball coach at Minnewaska Area High School. He was eager to throw his name into the list of candidates for the Lakers’ varsity job.

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Minnewaska senior guard Damon Uhde gets into the lane against Redwood Valley during the Lakers' season opener on Dec. 4, 2021. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

“The reason I interviewed is because I knew I could do this job,” Salathe said. “I’m going to learn it the hard way. I’m going to take my punches, but I’m going to bounce back, be a basketball junkie and watch the game film of Paynesville and Litchfield. Those are our next two opponents. I’m very thankful for this job. It’s a big jump to make, but it’s something I thought I was ready for, and I’m glad the people who chose me for this job had my back too.”

Salathe was with his girlfriend and another friend of his on Friday night when he said it hit him how big of a day this was going to be for him. He woke up at 5:45 a.m. on Saturday to help run youth basketball practice ahead of his own game.

“Seeing them just have positivity kind of eased my nerves because I was around basketball the whole day,” Salathe said. “Being in the gym, you have that little feeling of anxiety in you, and that’s OK. When the game started, it was just fired up energy.”

Kostelecky said Salathe takes a very positive approach with this team.

“ He likes to get on us to be really positive.," Kostelecky said. "He runs us so we get in shape so he doesn’t have to take a lot of us out of games. He’s nothing but positive."

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Minnewaska junior guard Jack Larson lines up a three during the Lakers' season opener against Redwood Valley on Dec. 4, 2021. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Salathe spent a handful of minutes after the game talking things over with his assistant coaches before going into the locker room and addressing his team. It’s the first of many postgame speeches he is excited to give after his first career game on Saturday.

“I saw my parents came from Perham. It meant a lot to see them,” Salathe said. “It makes me feel good to know I got to this point in my life, but I want to lead these guys and the teams of the future into something they can be proud of and be proud to be a Laker. I’m proud of where I came from, and I’m proud to be the coach here.”


MINNEWASKA SCORING - Tate Reichmann - 4; Ethan Quelle - 6; Jack Majerus - 5; Damon Uhde - 16; Hunter Kostelecky - 19

REDWOOD VALLEY SCORING - Charles LaChapelle - 21; Robert Halvorson - 4; Alex Lang - 16; Zack Reck - 5; Jahger Bill - 2; Carson Woodford - 17; Aiden Robish - 3

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Minnewaska senior guard Damon Uhde drives against the defense of Redwood Valley's Charles LaChapelle during the season opener on Dec. 4, 2021. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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