Mayer Lutheran vs. Southwest Christian

7:15 p.m., Thursday, March 4

A talented junior class at Mayer Lutheran has provided a very warm Minnesota welcome to a longtime Wisconsin resident and basketball coach.

Keith Traska, in his first year as a teacher and coach at Mayer Lutheran after spending 20 years across the border, has his Crusaders in contention for this year's Minnesota River Conference title. And, although Mayer Lutheran (11-2) isn’t in the top-10 rankings, the Crusaders have the highest QRF score in their class at 85.8 (Mayer Lutheran is 2.1 points ahead of No. 1-1A Mahnomen/Waubun).

A victory over rival Southwest Christian (9-4) in all likelihood would lead Mayer Lutheran to a conference championship. The Crusaders beat Southwest Christian 80-76 on Feb. 4 and their only conference loss this season was a 68-64 decision on Feb. 12 against Belle Plaine.

“We’ve got a fantastic group,” said Traska, who took over the Crusaders’ program from Pat Buchanan, who is in his first year at Apple Valley. “They’re incredibly athletic, well-balanced and, most of all, very coachable.”

Teigan Martin, a 6-7 junior, leads the Crusaders with more than 21 points a game. “He’s such a dominant force,” Traska said. “His postup ability is great, but he also can shoot from the outside.”

With Martin, 6-5 Isaac Hahn (9.3 ppg) and a 6-3 trio of Tyler Neitzel (11 ppg), Ty Hoese (10.2 ppg) and Elijah Jopp (7.4 ppg), few Class 1A teams can match up with Mayer Lutheran in terms of size and length. 

Southwest Christian comes about as close as any of the Crusaders’ 2021 opponents. Nick Burke, a 6-5 transfer from Prior Lake, averages 20.2 points and 5.2 rebounds a game. Burke dropped 27 points the last time his team played the Crusaders. Tyson Sandness, a 6-2 senior, compliments by averaging 16.6 points a game for the Stars.

The Stars got off to a rough start, losing their first two games this winter, but have won nine of 11 since.