East Ridge coach Bryce Tesdahl, with senior Courtney Brown holding the all, in the Class 4A, Section championship game, a victory over Cretin-Derham Hall on March 14 that put the Raptors in their first state tournament. Photo by Jeff Lawler, SportsEngine
The situation was overflowing with potential. It just needed the right person to tap it. And so far, Bryce Tesdahl appears to be that person.
Tesdahl was hired two years ago to take the helm at East Ridge, a program brimming with talent. From the line of coaches with ties to the legendary Bob McDonald of Chisholm, who is his grandfather, Tesdahl has basketball in his blood. At East Ridge, Tesdahl saw a program with something special bubbling.
“I knew the talent and the facilities were here, but you don’t really know until you get there,” said Tesdahl. “Once I got here, I could see we had the opportunity to accomplish great things.”
The talented Raptors have that chance. They will be making their first state tournament appearance Wednesday when they play Eastview in the Class 4A boys’ basketball state tournament quarterfinals Wednesday at Target Center. East Ridge defeated Eastview 74-67 earlier in the season.
“I thought year two, we’d take a big step and we did,” Tesdahl said.
Despite his age of 27, or possibly because of it, Tesdahl dove headlong into the world of East Ridge basketball. Summer workouts became an obligation, as did lifting weights. Players began watching film. Scouting reports were developed regularly.
“Before coach Tesdahl, we didn’t do a lot to prepare,” said 6-6 senior forward Courtney Brown, a Wisconsin-Milwaukee signee who is one of those highly talented players. “The way he goes about preparing for games, it feels like college.”
Ben Carlson, a broad-shouldered 6-9 junior forward with nearly 20 Division I offers, said seeing the commitment of his coach rubs off on the players.
“It shows he cares about building the culture and the brand of East Ridge basketball,” Carlson said. “It’s about being committed every day. No one minds it, because we know it’s going to get us where we want to go.”
Watch him conduct practice and Tesdahl’s passion for the game becomes obvious. Being so close in age to his players, he has a knack for communicating at a level to which they can relate.
At a recent practice, Tesdahl conducted an interview with a member of the media, talking in coachspeak, using terms like culture and growth, opportunity and process. He then called his team together to begin practice and his voice took more urgency. He set stages, laid out goals, challenged and cajoled and motivated his charges.
“The atmosphere is NOT too big for us,” he yelled. “It’s still a 10-foot rim. We’re going to enjoy this opportunity, take advantage of it and win this thing!”
It’s all part of Tesdahl’s method. What better way to get full commitment from a group of players than to show it to them?
“It all starts with the boss,” he said. “You can’t win games without buying into the process. And these kids have done a good job buying in.”
“He’s young, like us,” Carlson said. “He gets everything we talk about.”
High-level core players such as Carlson, Brown and his younger brother Kendall, all avaerage between 15.7 and 17.3 points per game. Couple their leadership with the contributions of point guard Zach Zebrowski, quarterback on the East Ridge football team, and sharpshooter Patrick Lynott, and the Raptors are far from your typical first-time tournament entrant.
They’ve lost just twice, to Prior Lake and Eden Prairie early in the season, and have won 24 consecutitive games. With this year’s tournament field having no clear favorite, the Raptors walking away with the state championship trophy is a real possibility. Tesdahl believes as much and told his team so as he concluded his fiery pre-practice speech.
“All I need you to do,” he said, “is to play your [butt] off.”
1. The stars are out
Each of the five seeded teams feature at least one Division 1 level player. Junior Dain Dainja, a 6-9 force in the low post, leads Park Center. Hopkins has Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year Zeke Nnaji, who’s committed to Arizona, as well as 6-5 junior swingman Kerwin Walton. There’s the big three at East Ridge — senior Courtney Brown and his sophomore brother, Kendall, and junior Ben Carlson. Eden Prairie’s gritty leader, Drake Dobbs, has verbally committed to Liberty University, and Lakeville North’s stellar 6-7 guard Tyler Wahl is yet another Minnesotan who will play at Wisconsin.
2. Tight-game masters
Park Center was seeded No. 1 because the Pirates are the only one-loss team in the field. That is a testament to the mental toughness that coach James Ware has instilled. When the game is in doubt, Park Center finds a path to victory. The Pirates won seven games by five points or less, including a 57-55 triple-overtime victory over Champlin Park in the Section 5 championship game.
First-time state entrant East Ridge started the season 3-2, losing to Prior Lake and Eden Prairie. Since then the Raptors have won 24 in a row. ... Maple Grove is playing its best basketball, having won 14 of its last 16, losing only to Park Center and Champlin Park. The Crimson are making their fourth consecutive tournament appearance.
4. Throw out the record
Eden Prairie has nine losses, second-most of any team in the bracket, but they are deceiving. Four were to state tournament teams — DeLaSalle, Park Center, Minnehaha Academy and Hopkins. The combined record of the eight teams that have defeated them (Wayzata did it twice) is 184-44. Said coach David Flom, “We play the best teams we can and clearly that’s paid off.”