Sam Sanness eyes an incoming pass during first week of preparation for the Lion basketball boys, who open this week against two of the top four state-ranked teams in Class A.
Sam Sanness eyes an incoming pass during first week of preparation for the Lion basketball boys, who open this week against two of the top four state-ranked teams in Class A.
The Spring Grove boys basketball team returns facing high expectations but likely with more question marks than they’ve seen in recent years. The team is in a bit of a rebuilding mode after losing seven seniors to graduation, including four starters, two All-SEC players, and one All-State standout.

There’s a good reason for the high expectations. The Lions were 24-4 last season (13-0 SEC), their sixth-straight 20-win season and the seventh-straight conference championship. The Lions sport a 47-game conference winning streak and a 105-2 conference record over the last 6 years.

The Lions were sub-section runners-up to Rushford-Peterson last season, most of which Spring Grove spent in the state rankings. The Lions were ranked as high as No. 4 and finished at No. 7. They received votes in the current preseason poll but not enough to make the top 10.

While a lot of the familiar faces from last year are missing, the Lions return four letter winners and one starter that plays the crucial point guard position.

Alex Folz, a 5-foot-10 junior was an All-SEC player last season and will be the starting point guard once again this year. Folz has earned a varsity letter for three years, starting in his eighth-grade year. He piloted a record-setting offense last season, setting program records with the fewest turnovers (9.7 per game) and the best assist-to-turnover ratio (1.75).

Folz led the Lions in assists (4.9 a game), was second on the team in scoring (14 points a game), steals (2.6), and free-throw accuracy (71%). He was third on the team with an excellent assist-to-turnover ratio (1.86) and shot a strong 35% from 3-point range.

Other returning letter winners

Adin Solum, a 6-2 senior guard, played in 27 of 28 games last year, leading the team in free-throw accuracy at 77%. He shot a very good 57% from the field, averaging 2.8 points and 1.0 rebounds per game.

Noah Elton, a 6-0 junior guard was on the court in 24 varsity games a season ago. He shot 33% from 3-point land and a solid 69% from the free-throw line. Elton averaged 2.9 points a game in varsity action but was the top B-team scorer at 14.2 points a game.

Takoda Boyd is a 5-10 junior guard who played in 15 varsity games. He’s an outside-shooting threat and was the second-leading B-team scorer last season (11.2 ppg.)

Two come back to basketball

Expectations going into the season are extremely high for two players that didn’t play last season, albeit for different reasons.

Ethan Matzke, a 6-4 junior who likely would have been a starter last season if not for an injury in the preseason that led to surgery, forcing him to miss his entire sophomore season.

He was a varsity letter winner as a freshman and as an eighth-grader. He’s got good size to play under the basket and can also step outside and shoot from the perimeter. Matzke led the team in 3-point accuracy two years ago (41%).

Sam Sanness is a 6-5 senior center who had an amazing summer season after not playing basketball for three years. His last time on the court was as an eighth-grader on the junior high team.

Promising performers

Kai Bjerke, a 6-0 junior forward, is also a strong candidate to see some significant playing time.

Tyler Kersten, a 6-0 sophomore forward, is a promising newcomer to the Spring Grove school district.

Other players moving up from a successful 18-3 B-team that went undefeated in 11 games versus conference rivals are sophomores 6-1 guard Caleb Nerstad, 6-0 guard Alan Michels, 6-0 forward Carter Bratland, 6-1 forward Wyatt Murphy, 5-9 guard Chandler Bergrud, 6-0 forward Kyle Hagen and 5-8 guard Payton Leahy along with 6-0 freshmen guard Caden Grinde.

Other freshmen are Carson Gavin, Isaac Gengler and Isaac Griffin who move up from last year’s junior high squad.

Coaching continuity

Wade Grinde starts his 23rd season as head coach with over 400 wins (411-158, 72%), 12 conference titles and 2 sub-section titles. Assistant Dave Konz is back for his 22nd season. Al Lochner is back for his 30th season coaching at Spring Grove, and former Lion Athlete of the Year Chris Strinmoen is back for his seventh campaign.

Challenging Schedule

Coach Grinde says SG has the most challenging schedule in his 23 years, starting with two of the top four state-ranked teams in Minnesota. Because of the extended football season, the first two games have been rescheduled. The Lions now open at state-ranked No. 4 Rushford-Peterson on Thursday, Dec. 7, before going up to Hopkins on Saturday, Dec. 9 (9:30 a.m.) to face state-ranked No. 2 Springfield in the annual Breakdown Classic.

Lions the Last 6 seasons

>>>SG boys Basketball

2017.....24-4 (13-0 SEC, 1st East)

2016.....28-2 (20-0 SEC, 1st East)

2015.....24-4 (19-1 SEC, 1st East)

2014*...25-4 (18-0 SEC, 1st East)

2013.....21-7 (17-1 SEC, 1st East)

2012*...25-3 (18-0 SEC, 1st East)

total 147-24 (105-2 SEC)

* reached sub-sect. finals '12 & '14

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Spring Grove Boys Basketball 2017-2018

*conference game; approximately 7:15 unless noted

Thur......12/07.....at Rushford-Peterson 7:30 pm

>>>Breakdown Classic at Hopkins

Sat.........12/09......vs. Springfield 9:30 am

Tues......12/12......at Fillmore Central 7:30 pm

Thur......12/14......at Mabel-Canton*

>>Iowa/Minn. Border Battle at Luther College

Sat........12/16......vs. New Hampton (Iowa) 5 pm

Tues.....12/19......Houston*

>>Holiday double headers at Rushford-Peterson

Thur.......12/28.....vs. Mankato Loyola 6 pm

Fri.........12/29......vs. Kiawok (Alaska) 6 pm

Thur.......1/04.......Grand Meadow (non-conf.)

Fri..........1/05.......at Decorah 7:30 pm

Thur.......1/11.......LeRoy-Ostrander*

>>Midwest Classic at La Crosse Center

Sat..........1/13.......vs. La Crosse Aquinas 1:10 pm

Tues.......1/16.......at Lanesboro*

Mon.......1/22.......at Waukon 7:30 pm

Thur.......1/25.......Mabel-Canton*

>>Border Battle at Steven's Point, Wis.

Sat.........1/27.......vs. S.P. Pacelli 11:30 am

Tues......1/30.......at Lyle/Pacelli* (Austin)

Thur......2/01.......Schaeffer Academy*

Fri.........2/02.......at Houston*

Mon......2/05.......at Glenville-Emmons*

Thur......2/08.......Randolph*

Sat.........2/10.......at Schaeffer Academy*

Mon......2/12........at La Crescent 7:30 pm

Fri.........2/16........at Grand Meadow*

Mon......2/19........Kingsland

Fri.,,,,,,,,2/23........Lanesboro*