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Fairmont girls basketball team moves to Section 3AA

TIPOFF TIME — Members of the Fairmont Cardinal girls basketball team tipping off the season by playing host to Windom Area tonight at Cardinal Gym in Fairmont include, front row (l-r): Allison Janssen, Anna Ehlert and Olivia Ortega. Middle row: Ava Terfehr, Anna Busche, Emma Gudahl and Kate Busche. Back row: Cadee Becker, Rayah Quiring, Brittney Mosloski, Cassidy Schultz, Jazlyn Geerdes and Grace Pendergast. Not pictured: Maggy Totzke and Abby Cihoski. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — After competing in the Section 2AA playoffs during the past six years, Fairmont head coach Sara Junkermeier and her Cardinal girls basketball team are packing their equipment bags and moving west.

The Minnesota State High School League restructured the Class AA girls hoops bracket during the offseason, and returned Fairmont to Section 3 for the upcoming 2021-22 schedule.

Ironically, the last time the Cardinals competed in Section 3 — the 2014-15 campaign, they earned just the second state appearance in the program’s 46-year history.

“Nobody I know would say this, but I actually want to go back to Marshall,” Junkermeier said with a laugh. “If we’re making the long bus trip to Southwest Minnesota State (University) during the first part of March, then it means we’ve reached the third or fourth round of the playoffs, and I’ll take that.”

Junkermeier guided Fairmont to a 13-6 overall record during the pandemic-condensed 2021 campaign, but lost to perennial Section 2AA powerhouse Waseca by 11 in the second round on March 19. The Bluejays also ended the Cardinals’ sectional run during the 2019-20 season.

“It’ll probably seem odd not facing Waseca in the playoffs, but moving back to the west opens up a new opportunity for us,” said Junkermeier, whose lineup tips off the season by playing host to Windom Area at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Cardinal Gym in Fairmont. “We’ve played a number of the teams in Section 3, so we have a good idea of what to expect.

“Jackson (County Central) will be solid, St. James has improved and Luverne is always good and a challenge to beat.”

Junkermeier will adjust to life in a new “old” section by turning to a talented returning core of six seniors — all who have been starters at the varsity level at various stages throughout the last three campaigns.

Cadee Becker, a hard-working 5-foot-8 senior, returns to the low post with a team-best 8.7-point scoring average to complement 4.7 rebounds per outing.

Brittney Mosloski, a 6-0 senior, will rejoin Becker in the paint, while a pair of senior 6-footers — Rayah Quiring and Cassidy Schultz — also return to Fairmont’s frontcourt. Quiring generated 5.5 points and 3.4 rebounds to go with sinking 18 trifectas on the hardwood playing surface last season, while Mosloski averaged 4.7 points and 2.7 boards per outing.

Maggy Totzke returns for her fifth varsity campaign, while 5-7 playmaker Emma Gudahl rejoins her high-energy 5-4 teammate in the Cardinals’ backcourt again. Totzke topped the team by connecting for 25 treys to help fuel a 5.3-point scoring clip in 2021.

“Our six seniors come in knowing how we (coaching staff) run practices and what’s expected of them,” said Junkermeier. “They realize this is it — their final high school season, so they’re taking on leadership roles and looking to help the younger players develop.

“After our six seniors, it’s fairly wide open, and we’re looking for someone to step up.”

Jazlyn Geerdes, a 5-10 junior post player, and junior guard Olivia Ortega will look to vie for minutes, along with sophomores Ava Terfehr and Grace Pendergast figuring into the varsity mix.

“So far, Ava has responded well to her treatments, but we’ll keep a close eye on how’s she feeling both on and off the court at all times,” Junkermeier said in reference to Terfehr, who’s currently undergoing treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Allison Janssen, Kate Busche, Anna Busche, Abby Cihoski and Anna Ehlert will round out the Cardinals’ opening-day varsity roster.

“Our younger and less experienced players will need reps, so we will have to rotate a number of them for minutes on the B-squad during the season,” said Junkermeier.

So, with size and speed plentiful on the Cardinals’ roster, what does Junkermeier and coaching staff need to work on?

“We have to get better at our man defense,” said the fifth-year head coach. “Our match-up zone has been effective, but now we need to be able to use a combination of the two throughout the season.”

Fairmont hits the road to Waseca on Thursday night before playing Luverne in a Big South Conference Showcase game at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday in New Ulm.

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