HIBBING — The last time a Hibbing High School boys basketball team made it to state was 1989.
Is this the season when that drought comes to an end?
Nobody is putting the cart before the horse, but the 2019-20 edition of the Bluejackets certainly has that opportunity as the season was supposed to begin today, with a 5:30 p.m., contest against Hastings at the Red Wing Tournament.
Unfortunately, the start of the season will be delayed as the four-team tournament was called off due to the impending weather system coming into the state.
Even so, when asked about the possibility of this team advancing late into March, Hibbing coach Joel McDonald put the brakes on that a little bit.
“It isn’t state-tournament-or-bust,” McDonald said. “We have to be careful to look at it in that respect because if that’s what we often judge ourselves by, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
“Is it something that is the goal of these guys? Without question that’s the case. One of the top responses as an outcome goal for our season from a win/loss perspective, to win our section, as close as we got last year, that’s on our radar now.”
The Bluejackets have the personnel to do it with seniors Joe Paver and Isaac Colbaugh, along with juniors Parker Maki, Mayson Brown, Jack Grzybowski, Eli Erickson, Payton Forer and Justin Yuretich.
The sophomore class consists of Ayden McDonald, Hayden Verhel, Josh Kivela, Amari Manning, Jacob Jensrud, Vincent Carlson, Alex Chacich, Tre Holmes and Zach Rusich.
The nucleus is there, but there are some big shoes to fill.
“We have some departures to fill with the likes of Will (Durie), Jadyn (Colbaugh) and Luke (Lundell),” McDonald said. “Nobody will roll over and play dead. We’re a marked team, too, because of all of the talk by a lot of people. We have to learn to like that.
“We’ve got to want that pressure, be comfortable with that pressure and not let it get to us. If we define our season by state-tournament-or-bust, that pressure will eat you up.
Is it a goal? Without question. “We have a long way to go to get there. It’s a long season. Health plays a part in that and all of those types of things.”
What makes this possible is the chemistry this group has developed since elementary school.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys who have been around a long time,” McDonald said. “They’ve heard things a lot from the coaching staff, which is both a positive and negative at the same time.
“We come across as a little less patient because we’ve been doing the same things with these guys going back to the fifth- and sixth-grades. We have to realize that we can’t be making the same mistakes that we made two years ago.”
With maturity, those same mistakes should be put in the rearview mirror.
“We older. We’re faster. We have to anticipate better,” McDonald said. “We’ve got some good experience coming back. We have a little bit of size. I wouldn’t say we’re big, but we have some size, athleticism, shooting ability and ball-handling ability.”
With that said, Hibbing’s success will boil down to one thing — defense.
“What it will come down to is our buy-in on the defensive end, and how we define who we are,” McDonald said. “Our recent teams in the past few years, those teams have always had a defensive identity.
“If you can throw in a defensive identity into an offensive-identity combination, you’ve got something. If it’s all about offense, and not defense, you’ve got nothing. Our concentration is about who we are defensively. That’s a key.”
What makes it more unpredictable is the teams in Section 7AAA.
There will be no easy outs in that tournament with defending champion Princeton, along with Hermantown, Grand Rapids, Chisago Lakes, North Branch, Cloquet and Duluth Denfeld.
“It’s always physical enough and deep enough and the schools are big enough where anybody can come of it,” McDonald said. “Hermantown proved that a couple of years ago. There’s no cakewalks through any section game.
“Princeton, you have to factor them in. Yes, they lost a lot of seniors, but they’re coming off a state-tournament, and they’re fired up. It’s a big boost to their program. Hermantown has plenty to be competitive. Nothing is easy, and nothing is free in Section 7AAA.”
To prepare for that 7AAA grind, McDonald has put together a tough schedule, which includes Hopkins and Minnehaha Academy in the horizon, among others.
It was supposed to start with Hastings, but that will be null and void thanks to the weather.
McDonald will try to make those games up later in the season.