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Orono senior captain Jake Farrell attacks the basket in a win against Mound. (Photos courtesy Cooper Shannon Photography)

The Orono boys basketball team returned home to host the Monticello Magic from the Mississippi 8 Conference on Thursday, Dec. 16.

The Magic were missing their top scorer Carson Kolles, and the Spartans brought a physical, aggressive defense to build an early advantage. They would go on to win 91-54.

Senior captain Sebastian Loder exploded for 19 points in the game’s first 10 minutes, draining five first half threes, some from well beyond the arc.

Coach Barry Wohler reacted to the hot start, “Sebastian hitting five threes in a row broke open the first half. The guys really do a nice job of getting the ball to whoever is hot,”

The first half Spartan lead ballooned to a 48-29 as senior captain Jake Farrell led a fast break attack off of several of his rebounds. Kyle Kallenbach scored on two sweet double-pump finishes and junior Isaiah Hagen’s court vision (team-high seven assists) was on full display. Junior guard Grant Gunderson swatted an early Magic shot and hauled down five first half rebounds including three on the offensive end.

Senior captain Jack Kopesky turned in a spirited performance off the bench with a 9 point, 3 rebound, 2 assist night.

Kopesky described the Spartan’s team mentality, “Coach Luke Runka tells us to bring the ‘juice’ and I think the guys have started taking that to heart right from the opening tip-off. Also, the energy coming from the bench is essential. If you go back and check the film, you’ll see the entire bench jump up every time we shoot a three and flexing when someone gets an and-one.”

The second half was more of the same. The Spartans seemed to shift into another gear, getting fast break buckets on three straight possessions with Hagen leading the break, Gunderson and Kallenbach the recipients of Hagen’s dimes.

“I thought our defense really ignited our offense and transition game,” Wohler said. “I love the way we are sharing the ball on the break.”

Loder continued with his hot hand, scoring a career-high 29 points on 5-11 from beyond the arc, 4-5 from two point range and 6-8 at the free throw line. Farrell’s double-double - 13 points and 10 rebounds, Kallenbach’s 12 points and 3 assists, Hagen’s 11 points, 7 assists and 3 steals and Gunderson’s 4 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks all played into the Spartan’s success.

On this night, nearly the entire team made their presence felt. Senior Cohen Kellogg hit a three and attacked the Magic ball handlers to produce three steals. Junior Zach Close had a sweet baseline drive, knifing through to finish an and-one at the rim. Close finished with five points. Juniors Ryan Nelson and Riley Snow joined the fray, too. Nelson powered up for a bucket and Snow swished a deep corner triple.

Kopesky shared, “I think this team is just getting started. We’ve got tons of talent on the team with Sebastian’s shooting, Jake’s rebounding and more! I think our defense has been great so far, especially considering we are mostly small guards, and I think our offense is still developing. While we dropped 91 points tonight, we know we have room to improve.”

Prior to that big win, Orono defeated rival Mound Westonka 76-64 on Tuesday, Dec. 14.

In this pandemic era, it is clear that so much has changed. A new normal seems to have settled in, perhaps for all time.

On Tuesday Dec. 14, shortened seasons, masked athletes, distance-learning and “no fans allowed” finally gave way to a sense of normalcy.

A good ol’ fashioned high school sports rivalry, complete with a vocal student section and enough plot twists to get your heart racing regardless of who you were cheering for.

It was Mound-Westonka, a pre-season top ten in 3A, taking on former conference foe and border rival Orono in a high school boys basketball game. For some reason, this one seemed to matter more than a typical game night in a high school gymnasium.

At the tip, the Spartans got out quick with an early steal and bucket from senior captain Jake Farrell and a corner three from junior Kyle Kallenbach to build some early momentum.

Orono later built a 20-12 lead before Mound had a run of their own to trail by just one at the half time break.

The home crowd literally erupted on every made three point field goal (12 in all) from Mound.

“This is such an intense rivalry,” Farrell said. “With such a packed house and competitive crowd, we understood we needed to control our tempo and keep a positive attitude.”

In the second half, the teams exchanged threes and clutch plays. Each one seeming to carry more weight than the last. The Spartans and White Hawks remained even until the three minute mark when Orono started to put together a series of defensive stops. A steal on block on successive Mound possessions by junior Grant Gunderson, followed by a terrific Kallenbach-led fast break with an assist to Farrell were game changers.

Just a minute later, steals by juniors Isaiah Hagen and Gunderson helped cement the Orono advantage.

“I was really pleased with our defensive effort and the guys hit some big shots when it counted,” Wohler said.

Senior captain Sebastian Loder and junior Isaiah Hagen had huge offensive performances, scoring 24 and 27 points, respectively. Hagen was a handful all night, scoring in a myriad of ways. Loder provided some late game insurance with a fast break layup and four free throws. Farrell added 16 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Leadership and effort from Farrell and Loder was felt throughout the contest.

Mound had a balanced attack with senior Jack Eberhart leading the White Hawks with 20 points, Jason Spaeth scoring 18, Max Swanson 12 and Tyler Von Bank delivering a very efficient 10 points while shooting 4 for 4 from the field.

“The game atmosphere was outstanding,” Wohler said. “What a great crowd.”

A terrific game played by two quality high school teams. A bit of normalcy, revisited.

This was the only regular season match-up between the Spartans and the White Hawks with Orono moving to the Metro West Conference for the 2021-22 season.

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