Head coach Dean Kesler has said all season how much he likes his team’s worth ethic and smarts.
Right now, it’s paying for the St. Cloud Apollo boys basketball team.
The Eagles are playing for first place in the Central Lakes Conference tonight.
The Eagles play at 7:30 tonight at conference-leading Brainerd.
“I certainly like the way we are playing,” Kesler said. “We’re not as talented as some of our best teams, but we’re really playing hard.
“We really put a lot of time and effort into our defensive schemes and it’s given us a chance to win.”
Apollo (4-1 CLC, 7-5 overall) has won three straight after four losses in a row, including a pair of defeats in The Breakdown Granite City Classic.
Brainerd (4-0, 8-0) is having its best season perhaps since 2006-07, when it wound up fourth in the CLC with an 11-7 conference record.
The Warriors won their only CLC title in 1993. They tied for the title with Rocori in ’92.
“Brainerd is very, very good,” said Kesler, who is in his 19th year as the Eagles’ head coach. “They have size, they have good guards, they’re athletic, they’re strong and they play 12 seniors.”
Apollo is led by Brett Maslonkowski. The 6-foot-3 senior forward is the Eagles’ leading scorer. He is 22 points away from 1,000. He’d be the eighth Apollo athlete to reach 1,000, joining a group that includes Preston Whitaker (1,577), Seth Noreen (1,475), Brett’s brother Blake Maslonkowski (1,339), Brad Akason (1,097), Ibrahim Abukar (1,086), Andre Garth (1,063) and Mark Kruse (1,034).
The Eagles have a solid senior class that includes forwards Trevor Tesch and Luke Stangler and guards Isaac Rakke and Grant Trokey.
Juniors Noel Teigen, Ethan Carlson and Michael Ashwill have been solid contributors and Jeremy Koffi is a fine athlete, Kesler said.
Kesler cited the play of his two young posts, sophomore Jake Atkinson and freshman Ethan Novacinski, as improving and making a difference inside for the Eagles.
“I’m excited for this game,” Kesler said. “I’m excited to see where we’re at. You only learn where you’re at by playing the best teams you can play.”
After tonight, Apollo plays Friday night at Delano (11-1). Kesler views the Tigers as the likely Section 5-3A favorite.
It’s a section that includes the Eagles, Rocori, Big Lake, Mound-Westonka and Orono. Monticello and Becker round out the section.
Granite City field
Sauk Rapids returns to The Breakdown Granite City Classic boys basketball team Dec. 27-28 and St. Cloud Apollo and St. Cloud State will be used as venues.
That’s the word from tournament director Justin Hegna.
The classic will keep its 12-team, six-game, two-day format, with games Dec. 27 played at Apollo and games Dec 28 at Halenbeck Hall.
Teams confirmed for the 2013 classic are: Sauk Rapids, Rocori, Sartell, Apollo, Apple Valley, Big Lake, St. Francis, Prior Lake, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, Champlin Park, Roseville and delano.
“Again, our field is awesome with talent,” Hegna said. “Apple Valley will be the top team next year. Roseville might be No. 2.
“Champlin and St. Francis will be top 10 in Class 4 while BBE is obviously a top No. 1 or 2 team in Class A … Big Lake will have (its) best team 10 years next year.”
New No. 1
St. Michael-Albertville is the new No. 1 in Class 3A wrestling, surpassing No. 2 Apple Valley. That’s mostly because the Knights won The Clash in Rochester over the Christmas break and Apple Valley was in consolation.
It’s noteworthy because Apple Valley has won the last 14 state championships in a row and 16 of the last 17.
“We’ve beaten some better teams,” St. Michael-Albertville coach Dan LeFebvre said Saturday after the Knights won the 20th Annual Jim Kiffmeyer Duals at St. Cloud Tech. “We beat three nationally ranked teams at The Clash.
“But Apple Valley, when they get everybody back, is going to be very tough.”
But so is St. Michael-Albertville, which has 11 state-ranked wrestlers and beat Sauk Rapids, Hastings and Albert Lea in St. Cloud.
“If we can stay healthy and injury free and all our best guys are on the mat, we’ve got a chance (to beat Apple Valley),” LeFebrve said.
The seven-person Ryan Forsman family lost their home because of a recent fire. St. Cloud Tech’s wrestling program raised $300 after the loss during a dual meet and passed the money on to the family.