Mustangs hoping to build on recent success

The Mounds View High School boys basketball team did not close out the pre-Christmas portion of its schedule on much of a high note. The Mustangs dropped three of four prior to the break.

Following a couple of days off for Christmas, Mounds View returned to action and picked up a pair of wins in a holiday tournament and added to the win streak with a conference victory last Friday.

Mounds View’s second-year head coach Dave Leiser is excited about his squad and believes it is a team that is beginning to gel.

“We think one of the great things about our team is we feel like we’re coming together,” said Leiser, who took the reins last season following Ziggy Kauls’ retirement after 45 years. “We feel like we have a team-first attitude and the guys are doing what they’re doing for the good of the team.”

Many of this year’s Mustangs were also on last year’s team that went 12-15. That experience is helpful this season.

“Experience,” Leiser said when asked what was different about this year’s squad. “When you’ve been through things a few times, it makes a huge difference. We’re stronger physically and we have guys who work hard in the off-season.”

Mounds View’s December slide began with a heart-breaking loss to Roseville on Dec. 10. The Mustangs rallied to take a one-point lead in the final seconds and appeared to seal the victory with a block on the defensive end. Roseville’s Jesper Horsted gathered in the loose ball, however, and sank a buzzer-beating shot to give the Raiders the victory.

“I think the hard thing about that is we felt like we did everything right,” said Leiser. “Our sideline out-of-bounds play we ran to perfection. We had a great pass and we hit the shot. Then they come down and we get a block. We defended it perfectly and the ball just happened to go to the guy.”

Mounds View lost its next game to East Ridge before bouncing back to knock off Woodbury. Then Cretin-Derham Hall paid a visit and went home with a 34-point victory.

“We got destroyed by Cretin,” Leiser said.

Mounds View was able to put the Cretin debacle in the rearview mirror quickly enough as it headed to Windom for a four-team holiday tournament. The Mustangs beat Albert Lea 70-50 in the first round and clinched the tournament title with a 74-63 win over Windom on day two.

Against Windom, Mounds View scored the first 10 points of the game and eventually led by 15 later in the first half. The Eagles got to within six points in the second half but Mounds View salted the game away at the free-throw line.

In addition to the basketball, the trip was also a success in the team-building department.

“The Windom tournament was phenomenal,” said Leiser. “First of all, we were treated exceptionally well. We did several events. It was great building our team camaraderie just being together.

“Besides the events we planned in Windom, there was a lot of down time. The players’ parents were with them so they didn’t have free reign of the hotel rooms so the (video games) weren’t there. They were in the lobby playing board games, laughing, having fun, being together. It was just a super team-building weekend for us.”

The Windom tournament was something new for Mounds View, which for years had played in the Bethel University holiday event.

“Because we had a veteran team and we played at Bethel last year, I didn’t want the same schedule,” Leiser said. “I felt like we needed some new challenges. We felt like it would be good to get out of town and play in a new tournament. I have a family connection (to Windom). That’s how we chose Windom. I wanted to go to a small town and mom’s family is from there so I know the town.”

Mounds View kept the good vibes flowing upon returning to the Twin Cities with a Suburban East Conference victory over White Bear Lake last Friday. The Mustangs took control early in the second half by turning their six-point halftime lead into a 19-point cushion.

Ball control and defense were the keys to Mounds View’s second-half surge.

“No. 1, I think we took care of the ball a little bit better,” said Leiser. “I thought we were a little bit more patient and took the shots we wanted to take. I really thought we really played well defensively. They hit some miraculous shots but that’s what they had to do to get back in it.”

Junior Ryan Kaczynski got Mounds View off and rolling with six points in an 8-0 run to open the second half. Kaczynski is the Mustangs’ leading scorer (19.7 per game) and paced the team with 22 against the Bears. All but two of those points came in the second half.

Kaczynski struggled in the first half but Leiser said they didn’t do anything special to get him going in the second.

“The funny thing with Ryan, I think he missed his first four shots and they weren’t guarding him but they just didn’t go in,” Leiser said. “We have a lot of confidence in Ryan and if he keeps getting shots like that he’s going to make them. So even though he didn’t make them, our feeling was if we continue to get him shots like that, he’s going to come through. He’s too good of a player.”

Mounds View also got strong offensive production from Nick Justin and Tim Hanson, who both scored 11, and Ben Spencer and Henry Morris, who both added 10 points.

Justin had an interesting second half as he drew a pair of flagrant fouls. He was run over from behind on a breakaway for the first foul and was basically bear-hugged on a second play.

Mounds View has three games on the docket this week, starting with Tuesday’s home game against Stillwater. The Ponies (4-7) are below .500 but Leiser views them as more of a threat than that record would indicate.

“It’s a big game, they’re a section opponent and it’s a conference game,” said Leiser. “They’ve got a lot of talent but they’ve been struggling to get wins. They’ve won only four games but they’re better than that.”

Also on the schedule this week is a trip to Park-Cottage Grove on Friday. The Wolfpack are last in the Suburban East Conference but appear to have improved. Over the previous four seasons they won a total of seven games but this year they’ve already won four.

Mounds View closes out the week with an interesting trip to Roseville but it doesn’t involve playing the rival Raiders. Instead, the Mustangs will take on Edina at 3:30 p.m. as part of the SEC-Lake Conference Challenge. Following Mounds View-Edina, Minnetonka will tangle with Roseville.

There are actually eight games going on that day, starting at 11 a.m. Freshman, sophomore and junior varsity games between Mounds View and Edina and between Minnetonka and Roseville will make for a full day of hoops at Roseville.

Brian Meyers can be reached at bmeyers@lillienews.com.

 

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