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It’s the end of another regular season, and the beginning of another March. For the Islanders, nothing is really different, even if the man steering the ship is new.
Once again, DeLaSalle is the No. 1 team in Class 3A according to Minnesota Basketball News, a post the Islanders are very familiar with as they enter the playoffs seeking a seventh-straight state title. An 82-67 win over No. 7 Columbia Heights Friday was a nice tune-up for DeLaSalle, which starts section play 21-4 overall.
Maybe the only real difference is first-year head coach Travis Bledsoe, who replaced Dave Thorson. And even then, it’s been more of the same for DeLaSalle, in part because Bledsoe came through the program himself.
A 2005 graduate of DeLaSalle and a Mr. Basketball finalist his senior year, Bledsoe went to state twice with Thorson. He played at the University of North Dakota, where he topped 1,000 points and played overseas for a year before getting into coaching, where he was at Centennial prior to returning to his alma mater.
It’s maybe the reason that, even with Thorson’s departure after 23 years to become an assistant at Drake University, the Islanders are on track to do what they’ve done the last six seasons.
“I think that’s the only way it would have been possible to keep this thing going, because of how tight-knit the community is,” Bledsoe said. “The way we’ve run things at DeLaSalle is so unique that you needed to be from here to pull it off. I thought that coming here, I would be able to fit in seamlessly and kind of hop on the moving train and keep it going and not have to wait too long to see it pay off. Right now, we’re playing very well, but we expected it to be like this.”
Much of the continuity is due to the fact there was, well, continuity. All the top varsity assistants returned, many of whom coached Bledsoe when he was playing Islander basketball.
Many of the defensive concepts and some on offense stayed the same, which Bledsoe did on purpose. But Bledsoe also brings some new things to the table.
“He’s been energetic. He’s young, so he kind of relates with us,” senior Gabe Kalscheur said.
As the playoffs begin this coming week, the daily expectations for the Islanders remain the same. And even with an incredible streak to maintain, the march toward another state title remains an expectation, rather than a source of pressure. There’s a difference.
“Yeah. I would say pressure is, you worry more,” Kalscheur said. “But expectations, we do this. It’s expected of us to bring it every time we’re on the court.”
“Expectations are kind of good to have,” Bledsoe said. “But at the same time, you’ve gotta go out there and you’ve gotta play hard each and every day before anything good will happen for you.
"Pressure, I don’t really see it as pressure," he added. "I see it as an opportunity more than that. I feel like I have a great opportunity ahead of me, we have a great opportunity to win the state championship. I’ll take that kind of pressure.”
The section will be tough, with fourth-ranked Orono the top competition. Should the Islanders make it to state, No. 2 Austin, last year’s championship foe, is likely to return to the field seeking a rematch.
Columbia Heights could also return to state — the Islanders defeated the Hylanders in the semifinals a year ago.
But the Islanders don’t get too far ahead of themselves. And so far, Bledsoe’s had a lot of fun in his return to Nicollet Island.
“It’s the way I’ve imagined it would go so far, and I’m hoping it will continue to go the way I imagine it,” he said.
Columbia Heights hung with DeLaSalle for the first two thirds of the game, even leading the Islanders at one point. But when the momentum shifted, the home team eased to a win in its regular-season finale.
DeLaSalle, ranked No. 1 in Class 3A by the Minnesota Basketball News, battled through a tightly fought first 24 minutes against No. 7 Columbia Heights before pulling away in an 82-67 win Friday on the Islanders’ senior night. Gabe Kalscheur had 30 points and Tyrell Terry added 20 for DeLaSalle.
In what was never more than a five-point game early on, the Islanders (21-4, 12-0) finally built a lead after a Jamison Battle three-pointer made it 49-45 with about 12 minutes to play. Kalscheur converted a basket and foul shot to make it 59-49 with just under nine minutes remaining.
Columbia Heights (17-6, 9-3) stayed competitive by taking advantage in transition. Deundra Roberson had 28 points to lead the Hylanders, who trailed 37-34 at halftime.
Wendell Matthews had 18 points and a team-high 12 rebounds for the Hylanders, and Quentin Hardrict added 12 points.
DeLaSalle’s Battle had 13 points and 11 rebounds. Sage Booker added eight points for the Islanders.
The MN Basketball Hub poll is for entertainment purposes only.