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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Win-E-Mac headed to state tournament again

Madison McKeever has a lot of options running the Win-E-Mac offense.

There’s Shelby Kaster in the post. Korbyn Ross on the wing. And she can choose to finish herself.

“I know Shelby is down low, or Korbyn is on the outside,” said McKeever, the Patriots’ starting point guard. “I’m confident they’re going to finish if I get them the ball.

“Most teams have one or two big scorers. I think it would be kind of hard to match up with us.”

That’s because the trio of Kaster, McKeever and Ross has accumulated a combined total of more than 5,000 points in their basketball careers. They’re the big three for the 28-2 Patriots, who will be playing in the Minnesota state Class A girls high school basketball tournament for the second straight season.

The Patriots meet Mountain Iron-Buhl at 5 p.m. Thursday in Minneapolis’ Mariucci Arena in a state quarterfinal game. Win-E-Mac finished fourth at state last season.

McKeever, a sophomore, paces this season’s team with a 20.1 scoring average. She has 1,708 career points. The 5-foot-11 Kaster averages 17 points; with 2,270 points, she holds the program’s career scoring record. Ross averages 9.6 points and scored her 1,000th point in the Patriots’ final regular-season game.

Having three big scorers in the lineup “makes it easier on all of us,” Ross, a 5-9 senior, said. “We can depend on each other.

“Whatever defenses give, we try to make it work for us. If somebody is on one night, we don’t get in her way. We let them go. Some nights its one of us; some nights it’s somebody else.”

To have three 1,000-point scorers in a lineup is uncommon. Prior to this trio, Win-E-Mac had only seven 1,000-point scorers in the history of the program.

They bring versatility to the offense because each gives defenses a different challenge.

“Shelby is your classic post player,” Win-E-Mac coach Ian Hanson said. “She plays with her back to the basket, has nice moves and gets a lot of offensive boards. Madison is more of a slasher, using her speed to get the basket. Korbyn is a spot-up shooter with good range. She’s a good 3-point shooter.

“You never know which one will lead the way. They’re all capable of running off big games. And they’re good about sharing the ball.”

Defending the Patriots often is a pick-your-poison situation for opponents.

“Most teams don’t have the defenders to take away all three of them,” Hanson said. “Most teams try to shut down Shelby in the paint. But that leaves Korbyn and Madison free. They’ll hit their shots and force teams to spread their defenses out.”

Defense first

Led by the big three, the Patriots average 66.8 points a game. But Win-E-Mac considers itself a defense-first team.

Opponents average only 37.7 points a game. In 11 games, Win-E-Mac has held opponents to less than 30 points in a game.

The swarming, pressing defense is led by the big three — McKeever averages 4.6 steals a game, Ross 3.7 and Kaster 2.7, along with 2.2 blocks per game. Alayna Espeseth (1.3 spg) and Jessica Kasprzak (2 spg) also defend well.

“We play good defense,” Hanson said. “A lot of our offense comes from our defense. With our quickness, we get a lot of steals and a lot of those transition into quick scores. The girls enjoy that fast-paced style.”

Despite the 28-2 record and an experienced lineup back from a team that finished fourth at state last season, Win-E-Mac didn’t receive a top-five seed at state.

“I think the girls have a bit of a chip on their shoulders,” Hanson said about not being seeded. “It will motivate us to play even harder.”