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Fairmont boys hoopsters play waiting game

SET FOR TIP-OFF — Members of the Fairmont Cardinals boys basketball team set to tip off the regular season by playing host to Waseca on Friday night at Cardinal Gym in Fairmont include, front row (l-r): Nolan Schultze, Sam Grogin, Landon Gilbertson, Kellen Stenzel, Hadan Toomer, Allon Chen, Sebastian Castro and Tyson Thate. Middle row: Ian Hatfield, Harmon Schrunk, Nolan Hansen, Blaze Geiger, Levi Pooley, Hunter Johnson, Hudson Laven, Trevor Maakestad and Ben Moeller. Back row: Oliver Tordsen, Brendan Schmidtke, David Maakestad, Gavin Junkermeier, Jamie Mueller, Sawyer Tordsen, Blake Hilgendorf, Trey Tumbleson and Brett Williams. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — Anticipation.

Fairmont head coach Jared Thompson stepped onto the hardwood court for the opening day of varsity boys basketball practice on Nov. 21 without any of his five projected starters present.

“I made all of the football players, who were coming out for basketball, take the first official week of practice off,” said Thompson. “After just playing in the state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium two days earlier, their minds and bodies needed a well-deserved break.”

With only six official practices to prepare for the Cardinals’ originally-scheduled season-opener on Dec. 6 against Tri-City United, Fairmont activities director Mat Mahoney was able to get the nonconference game rescheduled for Feb. 3.

“I appreciate that Mr. Mahoney and TCU’s athletic director were able to work out the schedule to give us three more days of practice before facing a Big South Conference opponent — Waseca — in our home-opener on Friday night,” Thompson said in reference to his team’s 7:30 p.m. varsity tipoff at Cardinal Gym.

Sawyer Tordsen, a 6-foot-7, 280-pound senior, returns to the low post after topping Fairmont’s statistical charts in both scoring (12.4 points per game) and rebounding (8.1 rpg) in 2021-22.

“It’s not too often you’re able to return both your leading scorer and rebounder,” Thompson said in reference to the all-Big South Conference East Division first-team selection.

Tordsen, however, won’t be alone in the low blocks as 6-5 senior Gavin Junkermeier returns to his power forward position with 5.2-point and 4.1-rebound averages from a year ago.

Junior Levi Pooley returns to the perimeter in the Cardinals’ three-guard offensive set after connecting for the team’s second-most 3-pointers (32) last season. Pooley scored 7.6 points per outing to complement 29 steals and 27 assists from the backcourt.

Senior David Maakestad also returns to a guard position after netting the No. 2 marks in assists (85) and steals (40) during his junior basketball campaign.

Senior Brendan Schmidtke, who was a reserve last season, will serve as Fairmont’s quarterback on the hardwood court from the point guard spot in 2022-23.

“With Sawyer and Gavin back, we’ll be big, long and physical, and tough to handle in the paint,” said Thompson. “The question will be, ‘Can we make outside shots on a consistent basis?’

“We’ll shoot a high percentage if our shot selection is good.”

Thompson said Maakestad will play the same role as he did a season ago — a quick driving ball-handler who can either penetrate and find an open teammate or hit the runner in traffic.

“After the top five, there will be a lot of unknowns until we get some actual games under our belts,” said Thompson. “For Maakestad, Tordsen, Junkermeier and Pooley, this will be their third years at the varsity level, so it should take a shorter transition period for them to regain their skills.”

Thompson sees the senior trio of Blake Hilgendorf, Trey Tumbleson and Jamie Mueller also contributing to the Cardinals’ mix this season.

“We’ve got 26 guys out this season, but only 18 can dress per game, so there will be a lot of competition in practice for playing time,” said Thompson.

Thompson anticipates South Sub-Section champion Redwood Valley, along with Jackson County Central and Pipestone Area, being the top rivals in Section 3AA.

“I feel good about our chances in the playoffs after playing Redwood Valley to a four-point game (60-56) during the second round of the sectional tournament last season,” said Thompson, whose lineup posted a 13-12 overall record in 2021-22.

Fairmont travels to New Ulm on Tuesday, Dec. 13, for its second game.

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