Senior-laden Spring Grove boys embark on another title trail

Kyle Hagen shoots against Class AA Cannon Falls during summer tournament action. The Bombers will host Spring Grove on Jan. 5. File photo
By : 
S. Lee Epps

Expectations continue to be high for the Spring Grove boys who come off seven straight 20-win basketball seasons and eight straight SEC East Division championships.

League rivals take little consolation in graduation claiming an all-conference center and an honorable mention guard, because the Lions bring back more proven firepower than any other SEC squad - two repeat All-SEC performers, including Conference Player of the Year and three-time All-SEC point guard Alex Folz.

Ethan Matzke, 6-foot-4 senior forward has already been all-conference twice. Noah Elton is a third returning starter; all three have more career assists than turnovers. 

Experience is evident as Spring Grove welcomes back six of eight letter winners from last winter's 24-6 (13-0 SEC) squad that reached the section championship game for the second time in three years. Younger and less experienced cagers have tasted success as well with the B-team going 15-5, including a 13-1 record versus conference clubs.


The Lions plan on extending their 60-game conference winning streak when they host Glenville-Emmons this Friday, Dec. 7. Spring Grove has won 124 of its last 126 conference games.

"We are looking forward to this season for many reasons," said Wade Grinde (435-164), who enters his 25th season at Spring Grove and 24th as the head coach. "We feel we have a strong team that can compete at a high level in the conference as well as the section. "

FOLZ, a 5-10 senior floor general, led the Lions in seven statistical categories, four of which rank among the 10 best single seasons in the record book. He already ranks among the top 10 players in six career statistical categories 

Folz, a four-year letter winner, led Lion scoring at 16.8 points per game while surpassing the 1,000-point plateau.

His 75 three-point baskets last year was the second highest single-season trey total on record.

MATZKE, already a three-year letter winner, was the team's leading rebounder (7.6 rpg) and fourth leading carom collector in the 10-team conference. He was the Lions' third leading scorer with 12.1 points per game.

ELTON (5-10 senior guard) was the fourth leading scorer (9.5 ppg) and was second in both assists and steals. In conference games, he finished with the fourth best assist average (4.8 apg) in the league.

In addition to that highly experienced trio, there are two other 6-0 senior letter winners who saw action in all 30 games last winter - Kai Bjerke and two-year letter winner Takoda Boyd. 

Both can score with Bjerke hitting 11 of 26 treys (42%) and Boyd sinking 20 of 51 triples (39%).

Another perimeter scoring threat is 6-2 sophomore guard Caden Grinde who lettered while playing in 24 games as a freshman and was also the leading scorer on the B-team (9.2 ppg).

"We need to develop depth and adjust to a few new changes offensively and defensively with such different personnel," added coach Grinde.

That depth should come from five juniors who split time between varsity and B-team games last year. Forward Kyle Hagen (6-1) played in 14 varsity games, and guard Payton Leahy saw action in 10. 

Other promising junior candidates are 6-2 guard Caleb Nerstad, 6-4 forward Wyatt Murphy and 6-0 guard Alan Michels. 

Sophomore guard Isaac Griffin was also on last year's section roster. Isaac Gengler is another returning sophomore guard with B-team experience. 

Freshman candidates include Carson Gerard, Jonah Udstuen, Reid Bjerke, Matt Doering, Jakob Myrah and Dominic Oehmigen.


Coach Grinde is excited about two additions to the coaching staff. "For 23 years, it has been Coach (Al) Lochner, (Dave) Konz and I.  This year we have added a former player/manager Matt Rosaaen and hall of famer Coach Tom Vix! 

"They have added a certain element to practice that will no doubt have a tremendous effect on our season.  I look forward to taking the best of what they do and adding it to what we already do to help our team maximize it's potential."

There are possibilities for points with the Lions returning three of the top four scorers from last year's second best shooting team in program history. 

The three Lions with the most steals are back along with two of the top three rebounders. Four veteran ball handlers posted more assists than turnovers.


Prospects are favorable for Grinde's 14th conference crown (20th all-time for SG) But the extraordinary 60-game SEC winning streak had a couple of unexpected close calls last year.

There were perilous 4-point and 8-point wins over Lyle/Pacelli, which finished only fourth out of five in the SEC West. After destroying Schaeffer Academy by 31 points in Spring Grove, the Lions barely escaped with a 6-point verdict in Rochester.

Kingsland enters the conference for the first time and will play in the five-team SEC East Division while Schaeffer Academy moves over to make the West a six-team race. The SEC matchup with LeRoy-Ostrander is scheduled as part of a boys-girls double header in Minneapolis at the Target Center.

There are non-conference contests with familiar foes Fillmore Central and Rushford-Peterson. Large Class AA clubs Cannon Falls and La Crescent-Hokah are also on the slate as are larger Iowa schools, Decorah and Waukon. The Lions are matched with Charles City in the annual Luther College Iowa-Minnesota Border Battle.

There is a Friday/Saturday road trip north to take on two private school powerhouses - Christ's Household of Faith (St. Paul), which went 18-8 last year, and Mayer Lutheran (Mayer), which finished 29-4 after winning the third place game at the Class A State Tournament.


Spring Grove Boys Basketball 

approximately 7:15 unless noted -* SEC games        

12-07 Glenville-Emmons*

12-13 Houston*

12/15 vs. Charles City 10 a.m. (Border Battle at Luther College)

12-17at Kingsland*

12-18at Mabel-Canton*

12-27 Randolph*

01-04at Lyle/Pacelli* (Lyle)

01-05at Cannon Falls 4:30 p.m.

01-08at La Crescent-Hokah

01-10  Lanesboro*

01-14  Decorah

01-15 Kingsland*

01-24at Houston*

01-26vs. LeRoy-Ostrander 1 p.m. (at Target Center, Minneapolis)

01-28 Waukon

01-29at Grand Meadow*



02-08at Mayer Lutheran 7:30 p.m.

02-09at CHOF (St. Paul 1 p.m.)

02-12Schaeffer Academy

02-14at Fillmore Cent. (Preston) 7:30

02-19Grand Meadow(non-conf.)

02-22at Lanesboro*