The run through the South Suburban Conference is a gauntlet, even for a team such as top-10 ranked Shakopee. Two of the Sabers' three losses have come against conference rivals No. 2-4A Prior Lake and No. 5-4A Lakeville North.
A second loss against Prior Lake would likely knock No. 6-4A Shakopee outside the race for this year’s league championship. More importantly, however, is how the Sabers compete against Prior Lake could affect their standing and confidence heading into the Class 4A, Section 2 tournament, where both teams reside.
Prior Lake won the first matchup 74-63 at home on Dec. 18. Dawson Garcia, the state's sixth-leading scorer (27.5 ppg), put on a display with 40 points and it was enough to hold off a scrappy Shakopee squad.
"It would be really nice to keep Garcia under 40 points this time around," Shakopee coach Jacob Dammann said via email. "It will take a team effort to defend him as well as keep him off the boards and eliminate his second-chance opportunities."
Junior forward Charles Katona (15.3 ppg) and senior guard Will Cordes (15.0 ppg) lead the Sabers offense, but they don’t have the dominant individual player that the Lakers have in Garcia. Katona had just five points in the loss at Prior Lake.
"One of my favorite things about this team is our depth and how each night a new guy can step up for us," Dammann said. "That has been the case in many of our games this year. ... We are our best when we have great togetherness and trust among our players."
Shakopee, outscoring opponents by an average of 13 points a game, will need the best efforts of all of them to get through the Section 2 tournament field, which includes No. 8-4A Edina, No. 9-4A Eden Prairie and No. 10-4A Chaska.
Prior Lake, which already has victories this season over Shakopee and Chaska, appears to be the section front-runner for now. And the Lakers, seeking their first state tournament berth since winning the second of consecutive Class 2A championships in 1977 and 1978, are more than a one-man show.
Robert Jones, a 6-10 senior center who has signed to play at Denver, averages 14.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game. Senior Sam Nissen averages 14.9 points, 3.6 assists and 2.5 steals. And senior Jackyse Jacox averages just 3.6 points but controls the offense for the Lakers (13-2, 7-1).