A thrilling postseason run cut short
Albert Lea basketball team deals with off-court heartbreak
In a decision announced Friday morning, the Minnesota State High School League said it would cancel the upcoming boys’ section and state basketball tournament and the remainder of the girls’ state basketball tournament in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The decision ultimately ended the season of the Albert Lea boys’ basketball team, which was set to play Austin in the Section 1AAA championship Friday night.
It would have been the Tigers’ first time in the section championship since the 2005-06 season. The Tigers and Packers split the regular season series 1-1 with an even score of 111-111 through those two games.
Albert Lea’s season comes to an inconclusive end with a record of 13-13 and will lose 11 seniors to graduation in the spring.
Here are some reactions from some of the Albert Lea coaches and players:
Lantt Benavidez, Albert Lea head coach
“It’s an unfortunate situation our players are faced to deal with. We can’t help but feel that our chance to prove ourselves was taken away from us with no opportunity. The seniors feel it the worst and that’s difficult for anyone, let alone young men.
“They had waited a long time to get to play on the big court in front of thousands of people and to be celebrated when they received their medals and plaques. These young men were able to bring a community in Albert Lea together and I’m proud of them and their accomplishments this season.
“I look forward to the future and to validate everyone’s feelings. We understand the decisions and precautions and are happy to do what we need to in hopes of protecting our community.
“Albert Lea basketball isn’t done. These young men have paved the way for the younger generations, to show them that hard work and dedication pays off. I promise this isn’t a one and done year for us. We are going to work hard and make sure we use this as a stepping stone to get better and put these boys in a situation to succeed.
“For now we will gather as a family and celebrate what our guys have accomplished this year. We appreciate the entire Albert Lea community and thank you for all the support you continue to show our athletes. Go Tigers.”
Stu Hendrickson, Albert Lea assistant coach
“First of all, I understand why the decision was made. It was made in the best interests of everybody involved, from the athletes to the fans.
“Two words come to mind when thinking of how the season ended. One is sympathetic. I feel bad for our student athletes. Especially the seniors. They have worked hard to get to where they are. The other word is cheated. Most teams in the state know when their season ends. That is usually with a tournament loss. Our guys never had that. We have been telling them to enjoy the moment because this is something that players in the past 15 years haven’t got to experience. Now that moment is gone and they aren’t going to be able to enjoy the moment they have worked so hard to earn.
“As coaches we were looking forward to the matchup as well. To be the best, you are going to have to beat the best. That is what Austin represents right now. They have been the team to beat in our section for several years. Coach Fadness is one of the best in the state. If you aren’t playing at the top of your game, his team will blow you out. We have a lot of respect for his program, but were hoping for one more chance to see where we stood on such a big stage.
“We all would like to thank the community for their support. The crowds seemed to grow with each game and became more energetic. We noticed. Thank you, Albert Lea. Go Tigers.”
Koby Hendrickson, Albert Lea senior guard
“I was shocked when I heard the news about the game being canceled. At first, I didn’t want to believe it. I became filled with sadness because I wasn’t going to play another high school game again. Then I thought back to how last Saturday against Simley was the last game I was ever going to play and how I wish I had that moment back.
“I know a lot of us guys were very excited for the game and the experience of playing at the Civic Center and were devastated after hearing the news. However, I couldn’t be more grateful for how my last year in the Albert Lea basketball program went. I am very proud of each of my teammates for all of their hard work to get to where we finished.”
Connor Veldman, Albert Lea senior guard
“I was definitely surprised to head the news. I was prepared to play the game with the limited fans, but the idea of not playing the game altogether didn’t cross my mind once. It is difficult to think that our season is over, but at the same time we acknowledge that there is nothing that we can to.
“I know there are a lot of people in the same boat right now, and I feel for them, we are all devastated. It is a lot to take in right now and we are all hurting, but we understand the decision to keep people safe. Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to everyone for the support shown this season. We have the best support staff that we could ever ask for.”
Chay Guen, Albert Lea senior forward
“It’s a very big disappointment to us and how much work we have put in this year. We knew what we were capable of, but we understand why it happened because at the end of the day, we want to be safe.”
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