Boys basketball: WCA, Henning to collide for 6A title after Knights capture first-ever subsection crown

West Central Area junior Nathaniel Junker is all smiles as he holds up the Section 6A South championship plaque on Monday night in Moorhead. It is the first subsection title in the Knights' program history as they now look ahead to the 6A title game against Henning on Thursday night.(Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The West Central Area and Henning boys basketball teams looked to be on a collision course the entire second half of the season to play in the Section 6A championship game. That’s exactly what will happen on Thursday night.

Both the Hornets (28-1) and Knights (27-2) controlled their subsection championship games on Monday at Concordia College in Moorhead. Henning, ranked No. 2 in the Class A polls, rolled over Mahnomen-Waubun 78-35 to win the North title before eighth-ranked WCA did the same to Hancock to win the South in a 68-47 final.

“To be the first subsection champs in school history, it’s awesome,” Knights’ junior forward Tate Christenson said. “We aren’t done yet.”

West Central Area wasn’t overlooking the significance of this South title before looking forward to Henning. Kraig Hunter has led this program for 24 seasons, and he’s had some good teams that have fallen just short of getting past this round of the playoffs.


West Central Area's Tate Christenson shoots a free throw during the first half of the Knights' win over Hancock on Monday. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“When I first started coaching is when Staples-Motley was in their dynasty,” Hunter said. “We got moved around and went to Section 3 where we had New London-Spicer and Redwood Valley for a few years. Then we ran into Battle Lake. We’ve had a lot of good teams and been in this game a few times, but this is the first time we’ve won it. That’s what these kids have asked for all their lives. They’ve been dedicated, they’ve been focused because they want this chance.”

The Knights capped off a perfect 3-0 record against the Owls (20-9) this winter by jumping out to a 37-21 lead by the break.

West Central Area spread the ball around again with six different players having at least five points to trump a game-high 20 points for Hancock big man, Matt Thompson. Grant Beuckens had 18 to lead the way, while Gage Staples and Jack Van Kempen each added 13.

“That (balance) will be important against Henning because they’re the same way,” Christenson said. “They’re seven, eight deep. We’re seven, eight deep.”

The Owls did not back down in the second half, but WCA had an answer for every run. Hancock cut it to an 11-point game with almost nine and a half minutes left before Jacob Bright’s second triple stretched the lead back to 14.

West Central Area's Gage Staples knocks down a jumper over the Hancock defense during Monday night's win for the Knights in the Section 6A South championship. West Central Area will play for the section title on Thursday night against Henning. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)


It was down to 11 again with 5:30 left when the Knights ran a perfectly-executed lob pass to Grant Beuckens for an easy layup out of a timeout. Staples had a big put-back after an offensive rebound late, and West Central Area secured the game at the free throw line where Christenson, Beuckens, Van Kempen and Cole Anderson combined to go 10-of-12 over the final 2 minutes, 20 seconds.

“I was happy with the start we got. Then we withstood the storm,” Hunter said. “We knew Hancock is a good program, a scrappy team with some good shooters. Every time they got close, guys responded. We made our free throws and put it away.”

The Knights’ reward is a chance to play in the biggest game in program history. The Section 6A championship will be a rematch of a game that Henning won over the Knights by a 68-62 final on Jan. 14. It’s a loss Christenson feels this group took a lot of lessons from.

West Central Area's Grant Beuckens rips down a rebound late in the first half of Monday's win over Hancock. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“We’re just ready for this chance,” he said. “We would have lost some of the games in the second half of the season if we hadn’t played Henning right away. It made us a lot better because we realized what we had to do to get to that point.”

Hunter did not hesitate when asked what WCA has to do to give itself a chance of getting a win against the Hornets.

“Take care of the ball,” Hunter said. “The first game, we were better than them in a lot of categories, but that was the category they beat us in.”


The Knights have not lost in 17 games since falling to Henning. The Hornets are riding a 21-game winning streak into Thursday after their only loss of the year against BOLD on Dec. 28.

West Central Area and Henning have been the two best teams in the section all year. Now they get a chance to play for a state-tournament bid back at Concordia.

“It should be a really fun night,” Hunter said. “We had some things that gave Henning some problems in the first game, and they obviously have things that give us problems. They have multiple shooters and a great transition game with a great defense. We’ve been two of the top teams in the state all year, and we’re really looking forward to the rematch.”

West Central Area head coach Kraig Hunter watches his team run through its offense during the 6A South championship game against Hancock on Monday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

WCA 37 31 - 68

HANCOCK 21 26 - 47

WCA SCORING - Jacob Bright - 6; Nathaniel Junker - 2; Grant Beuckens - 18; Tate Christenson - 9; Gage Staples - 13; Jack Van Kempen - 13; Brady Reeve - 5; Cole Anderson - 2


HANCOCK SCORING - Daniel Milander - 9; Preston Rohloff - 10; Adam Shaw - 1; Brandon Kellenberger - 2; Matt Thompson - 20; Colton Crowell - 2; Kody Berget - 3


WHAT: West Central Area (27-2) vs. Henning (28-1)

WHEN: Thursday, March 12, at 7 p.m.

WHERE: Concordia College, Moorhead

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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