Riley Mahlman is a caretaker. It's just his personality.
Sit and talk with the Lakeville South junior and his 6-foot-8, 270-pound frame is as threatening as a kitten. He smiles. He's polite. He makes sure you're out of the way first before he vacates an area that has become a zone for flying debris.
But try to take something he's tasked to protect, and Mahlman becomes a tiger. Or, more appropriately, a Cougar.
Mahlman, who has committed to play offensive tackle for the University of Wisconsin football team, is the focal point of a team that won its first 10 games and climbed to No. 10 in the Class 4A rankings by Minnesota Basketball News from Jan. 8. He's not the team's leading scorer, but his competitive and protective demeanor is reflected by his teammates.
Before a hard-fought 71-64 loss at home to Prior Lake on Jan. 10, Lakeville South had given up fewer than 50 points a game — best in the South Suburban Conference. And even though Lakers star Dawson Garcia scored 28 points in the defeat, the Marquette-bound senior had to battle and did much of his damage after Mahlman fouled out in the second half.
"We're defenders," said Lakeville South coach Joe Janquardt said. "That's what we do."
This week, the Cougars will be defending their place near the top of the South Suburban Conference standings. The loss to Prior Lake left Lakeville South (10-1, 3-1) trailing Shakopee and Eastview, who just happen to be the Cougars' next two opponents, in the league standings.
After hosting No. 6-4A Shakopee on Tuesday, Lakeville South travels to No. 4-4A Eastview on Thursday, when Mahlman will face a one-on-one battle with fellow future Badger Steven Crowl. It's that matchup that makes Lakeville South's matchup with Eastview our Top Game of the Week.
Offense is the area that Lakeville South continues to work to improve. Reid Patterson, a junior who averages 16.5 points per game, and Avery Mast, a sophomore averaging 12.7 points, are the Cougars' top scorers.
Mahlman, as stated, is a protector. He doesn't score all that much (his 8.9-point average is down from his 13-point average as a sophomore) but he's indispensable to Lakeville South's success.
Mahlman expects a tough game from Crowl, a senior who produces 27 points per game.
"He's a competitive guy," Mahlman said of the 6-foot-11 Crowl, who will play basketball at Wisconsin. "He's got a tough shot, just with his height and his way of finishing with his arms extended, he's at nine feet. When he jumps he's at 10 feet."
Eastview (11-1, 4-0) plays Rosemount Tuesday, and could enter Friday's game with a two-game lead over the Cougars in the conference standings. The Lightning's only loss this season was a 69-61 stumble at No. 1-4A Eden Prairie on Dec. 12.