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The Orono boys basketball team breaks the huddle in recent home win. (Photo by Cooper Shannon Photography)

Over the past decade, Orono and Delano have produced some very good boys high school basketball teams.

Led by seasoned and accomplished varsity coaches, both programs have earned their fair share of victories and for many years, one or the other was the team to beat in the Wright County Conference.

For the 2021-22 season, Orono has moved to the Metro West Conference, but the intensity of this border rivalry was as strong as ever leading up to a pre-Christmas match-up at Orono High School.

“It was great as always. There was a lot of energy from both the fans and the players,” senior captain Sebastian Loder said. “It is easy to get excited for a game like this due to its long history as a big rivalry.”

Orono entered the game with a 3-1 record, its lone blemish coming in the season opener against class 4A Hopkins. Delano entered with a 2-4 mark, yet with optimism over the early season play of sophomore guard Will Strandemo and junior forward Jackson Stewart. Strandemo, one of the top scorers in the state, was averaging nearly 30 points over the first six games. Orono, on the other hand, showed a ton of balance with all five starters contributing double digit scoring at least once in the season.

The cross-border crowd, seemingly balanced in support of the home and visiting teams, was engaged from the opening tip and the game quickly turned in Orono’s favor with some steals and key buckets from juniors Isaiah Hagen, Grant Gunderson and Kyle Kallenbach to go with a very deep three from Loder.

The Orono defense did a solid job containing Strandemo early, while forcing 12 first-half Tiger turnovers. Delano was scrappy though, forcing a few turnovers of their own and battling back to trail 31-26 at halftime.

In the second half, Kallenbach, Hagen and Loder exploded with hot shooting, all three getting to the rim and knocking down multiple threes. Kallenbach hit five shots from deep on his way to a season-high 19 points.

The Orono defense tightened up too, forcing 20 Delano turnovers for the game to just 12 for the Spartans.

A triple from Gunderson extended the Spartan lead to 15 with 10 minutes left and the Spartans were on their way to an 18-point victory.

A big part of the story was the way the Spartans shared the ball, unselfishly making the extra pass.

Orono Coach Barry Wohler liked what he saw on the offensive end, “We started moving the ball much better in the second half, which enabled Kallenbach and Hagen to get some great looks and open up our lead”.

On the night, Orono notched 24 assists to just 10 for Delano. Gunderson dished out five assists, with Hagen, Loder and senior captain Jake Farrell getting credit for four dimes each. Farrell, one of the top rebounders in the state, finished with 13 rebounds, including an uncanny six of them being controlled from the offensive end.

Loder commented further, “We had a great scouting report and executed it well. Our team defense was very effective, forcing them to work for every point they got. Offensively, we shot really well from three, getting makes from multiple players.”

In the end, the Spartans won 78-60 thanks in large part to a game-high 26 points from Hagen, 19 from Kallenbach and 17 from Loder. Gunderson added 7 points as did junior Zach Close, whose three point play closed the scoring for Orono.

Coach Wohler commented on what was to come for the 4-1 Spartans, “We are taking a few days off for the holidays and looking forward to our games at the Granite City Classic in St. Cloud.”

Following a late-December tournament, Orono will begin conference play on Tuesday, Jan. 4 against New Prague at Orono High School.

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