The Minnewaska boys basketball team finished its season with a flurry last winter in making a run all the way to the Section 3AA championship game.

The Lakers are back this year with four starters from that group and looking to be one of the top contenders in the section field again.

“I feel like our team has a chance to be very competitive in our conference and section, even though we have some very talented and well coached conference and section opponents on our schedule,” head coach Phil Johnsrud said. “We have four players that started for us throughout last year, and we hope that experience can help us going into this shortened season. At the same time, it is a new team with different dynamics and personality. We hope that in their own way, they can be successful as we move on from last season.”

The starter the Lakers’ lost from that 21-7 team was a big one in senior point guard Grant Jensen, who was named this team's MVP. Jensen averaged 14.2 points-per game and had a team-leading 62 assists. He finished his Lakers’ career nearing the 1,000-point mark with 919 in 84 games played.

Peyton Johnsrud and Aaron Ver Steeg are both senior guards who return to lead the way for Minnewaska after being All-West Central Conference players last winter.

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Johnsrud averaged 14.2 points and had a team-best 39 threes (32.8%). Ver Steeg added 11.6 points-per game to go along with a team-high 213 rebounds and 60 steals.

Sam Hested is a senior who was an honorable-mention all-conference performer last season, and Brady Hoffman is a 6-foot, 5-inch senior post player. The Lakers have some length, with Ver Steeg standing 6-feet, 3-inches, Johnsrud at 6-foot, 2-inches and Hested a 6-foot, 4-inch athlete on the wing.

“Experience, athleticism, intelligence and they all get along well,” coach Johnsrud said of the Lakers as a group. “I would like to think these attributes will be a strength for them as they compete as a team.”

The biggest question Johnsrud has surrounding his team is if the Lakers can develop enough depth to make it through the grind of the season. Minnewaska also lost Luke Barkeim and Drew Nelson on the perimeter from last year.

Seniors Connor Johnsrud (wing), Mitchell Gruber (guard), Jace Lindemann (guard), Cole Harste (post), and juniors Hunter Kostelecky (wing) and Damon Uhde (wing) are all guys Johnsrud said are players to watch to fill important roles.

“Also consistency,” Johnsrud said of some of the questions the team still has to answer to reach its potential. “They have to want to work hard enough to earn the experience of being successful through the duration of the season.”

Success will likely be measured by more than just wins and losses for most teams this season during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Johnsrud said Minnewaska’s focus will be on giving its student-athletes the best experience possible under the circumstances.

The Lakers’ practice schedule will be different this year as they have separated all of their pods in order to keep players at different age levels and coaches separate as much as possible.

“We want to make it business as usual while keeping the health of our athletes, students and families number one,” coach Johnsrud said.

MINNEWASKA BOYS BASKETBALL SCHEDULE

Jan. 14 vs. Pipestone, 7 p.m.

Jan. 16 at Melrose Area, 7 p.m.

Jan. 19 at BOLD, 7 p.m.

Jan. 22 vs. Morris Area, 7 p.m.

Jan. 28 vs. Sauk Centre, 7 p.m.

Feb. 2 at Benson, 7 p.m.

Feb. 5 at Montevideo, 7 p.m.

Feb. 9 at Sauk Centre, 7 p.m.

Feb. 11 vs. Melrose Area, 7 p.m.

Feb. 19 vs. BOLD, 7 p.m.

Feb. 23 at Morris Area, 7 p.m.

Feb. 26 at Redwood Valley, 7 p.m.

March 2 vs. Benson, 7 p.m.

March 6 vs. Litchfield, Noon

March 11 vs. Osakis, 7 p.m.

March 12 vs. Montevideo, 7 p.m.

March 18 at Paynesville, 7 p.m.