Middle Border Basketball Preview

Conference is stacked with talent, teams clawing for the top

By Joe Peine
Posted 11/16/23

The Prescott Cardinals basketball team will begin practices this week as they look for another Middle Border Championship.

The Cardinals have been a powerhouse for over a decade. In Head Coach …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in
Middle Border Basketball Preview

Conference is stacked with talent, teams clawing for the top


The Prescott Cardinals basketball team will begin practices this week as they look for another Middle Border Championship.

The Cardinals have been a powerhouse for over a decade. In Head Coach Nick Johnson’s first 12 seasons running the team, they have finished first or second in the conference nine times. During that span, they have taken first six times, most recently in 2021, and at their height, Prescott took first in the conference five straight years from 2013 to 2017.

“We've been very fortunate in my tenure to have great athletes after great athletes. We bring back four players this year that played big roles for us last season. They'll all need to take on bigger responsibilities this season,” Johnson said. “We lost three seniors from last year's team that went 21-6 and lost to Osceola in Sectionals. One of those seniors was Jordan Malmlov, who was an all-state player and one of Prescott's greatest players ever.” 

Still, expectations are high as usual in Cardinal nation.

“We believe the potential is there to have a solid team. It could take some time to put the pieces together with some newcomers expecting to play large roles. The conference is going to be very strong this season, but winning a conference championship and making a deep playoff run is always our team's goal,” Johnson said.

The Cardinals will be led by the all-around play of senior guard Dallas Wallin. An All-State player and three-year starter, Wallin has been a three-time all-conference performer and begins his senior season with 1,183 points. His size and mobility are huge assets for the Cardinals. 

Other returning starters include Ian Leask and Barrett Temmers, who will be counted on to take on much larger responsibilities. Mason Schommer, Kyle Cogan and Cullen Huppert are seniors who came off the bench last season who will also need to play much larger roles this season. Sophomores Kobe Russell and Max Montieth and junior Teddy Bernick all show a lot of promise and will need to make big impacts for Prescott this season, according to Johnson.

Practices start Monday for the Cardinals, with their first game coming on Friday, Dec. 1 when they will host the Somerset Spartans.

Prescott girls’ basketball

The Prescott Cardinals girls’ basketball season begins this week, and they are looking to add another Middle Border Conference Championship trophy to their already full case.

The Cardinals basketball program has been one of, if not the best, in the conference for quite some time. They’ve won the championship four times in a row now, which just so happens to coincide with Head Coach Owen Hamilton’s arrival in the program, the last two years of which he’s been the skipper.

“I attribute a lot of our success to how hard our girls work and the dedication they have to continuing our work as the ‘top dogs’ in the Middle Border. We put a lot of attention into winning our conference games and on how important those games are, especially in a conference with some really solid teams,” Hamilton said.

With such unprecedented success for the Prescott program, and with top end talent still on the roster, Hamilton sees no reason that they can’t complete a five-peat.

“My expectations are that we keep the conference championship streak alive, we continue our improvement throughout the season, and we make a good playoff push,” Hamilton said. “I think we have the pieces to be great, but we're taking each day as an opportunity to get better, and we don't want to focus too much on the later part of the season yet.”

With how cyclical high school sports can be, it takes a good bit of development to maintain that high level of success when you’re graduating talent each year. Hamilton isn’t afraid to say that he truly believes that a number of the younger players on the roster will step up and perform at a high level, just like their predecessors.

“Leah French has taken a big step forward all around. I think she has the potential to be one of the best defenders in the conference this year. Avery Pattridge is another girl who had started making a name for herself last year, but this year it's her time to shine, and I am really excited to see what she accomplishes,” Hamilton said. “We have quite a few other girls that are going to make a big impact as well, but I think Leah and Avery are two that really stand out to me as break out candidates.”

With the season on the cusp of starting, preseason practices are behind them now, and the Cardinals are starting to get a feel for who they are this year as a team.

“Practices have been going well. The girls are doing a great job of leading and working on the areas we need to improve on,” Hamilton said. “It's tough in the first week to really see some of the areas we need to improve on. The games will show us exactly what we need, but the girls have been doing great so far.”

It’s an exciting time to be a Cardinals basketball fan. The season tips off for Prescott on Tuesday when they travel to Elk Mound to play the imaginatively named Mounders at 7:15 p.m.

Ellsworth girls basketball

The Ellsworth Panthers basketball season gets into full swing this week as preseason practices and scrimmages came to an end over the weekend.

The Panthers program as a whole has taken a step forward over the past few seasons after a long period of finishing at the bottom of the conference. Jason Janke, who is entering his eighth year as head coach, credits this to structural changes including getting younger kids involved in the game.

“When our staff took over the program, we made some changes to the youth/feeder programs and have seen an uptick in girls working harder to skill-build as they matriculate to high school. We also were able to instill confidence and determination in the girls’ players at all three levels – high school, middle school, and youth,” Janke said. “By playing sound defense, working to compete throughout a given game and to handle adversity within them, we’ve created pride in our program. This also created a true program, in which our players could feel like they’re an important part of the team, find roles, take pride in those roles, and slowly, they figured out some ways to win games.” 

This development has happened in stages, according to Janke.

“Our first step out of the cellar was led by the scoring ability of Kaitlyn Nugent and Autumn Earney coupled with the tail-end of defensive stalwart Emma Swanson's career,” Janke said. “We were able to get some wins. Nugent and Earney, in their final year together in 2019 and 2020, led the way to a mid-Middle Border Conference finish.” 

Earney's senior year coincided with this year’s graduating class getting to high school, and she was paired with Molly Janke at that time.

“They were a very good combination who worked together very effectively, despite being three years apart,” Janke said. “So, overall, the development of players and the teamwork of several players, parents, families and community members all played a role. Our Ellsworth Basketball Association has done an outstanding job of working with high school head coaches to help build and maintain both boys and girls programs.” 

That development continues in Ellsworth.

“We have several varsity players back in the fold this season. Last year, we were in the MBC battle early on, but some injuries did not allow us to progress as planned,” Janke said. “We hope the development of Morgan Halverson and Maria Harrington on the offensive end, along with the playmaking of Aubrey Wittenberg will help our growth as a team. Molly Janke has expanded her game and will look to have more of an impact with her inside play this year, as well,” Janke said. “The addition of Emma Brown has some very good possibilities on the offensive end once she gets comfortable playing with the team. Kayla Kressin, Nyla Wilford and Abigail Michels will add continued strong defense for Ellsworth.”

The Panthers are also hoping to see even more offense from returning letter-winner Ava Brookshaw who shoots three-pointers well and creates mismatches inside. Other Panthers they hope to see continued improvement from include Lexi Marks and Mykenna Gaard as well, both of whom are good multi-sport athletes who tend to improve a great deal in-season, according to Janke.

Despite the high level of competition in the conference, Janke thinks they have a chance to push up the leaderboard.

“We hope to be one of the teams that are in the mix for the top portion of the conference this season, though we realize the very high competition level that is the Middle Border in girls’ basketball, where we have at least five teams that could contend for the championship. I wouldn't count anyone completely out of the race in our league - very good coaches and players across the board,” Janke said.

Coach Janke says that Halverson and Harrington have upgraded their games on the offensive end, with Halverson becoming a strong scoring threat via pass or shot from her positions, while Harrington has shown growth in her finishing ability. Molly Janke and Wittenberg will continue to run the team from the perimeter, and they are hoping to see continued improvement from Marks in this area as well. 

“Practices have gone well, the girls have been working hard, and our team chemistry is definitely a strength,” Janke said. “We are lower on numbers than in recent years, but it has created a stronger bond among all the age groups. Our veteran players are devoid of drama and set a great example for our younger players in this regard.”

The 2023 Panthers will take the court for the first time on Tuesday when they will travel to River Falls to play the Wildcats. Tipoff is at 7:15 p.m.

Panthers boys basketball

The Ellsworth Panthers boys’ basketball season is rapidly approaching, and the team begins its first practices this week.

It’s been tough sledding for the Panthers the last few seasons where they’ve finished near the bottom of a very tough Middle Border Conference. This is a sharp contrast to the three seasons prior to that when from 2016 to the 2018/19 season they finished in the top four, peaking at a second-place finish just two games behind Prescott for the championship in 2017.

Head Coach Derek Staley is entering his second season with the Panthers, and he’s looking to continue to build the program so they can get back to competing for championships.

“I expect to make progress this season. We have a very young roster, but we have some talent too,” Staley said. “George Rohl was an honorable mention all-conference player last year as a freshman, so I expect him to take a step up. Parker Woodland, Gavin Purhmann, Nash Kuhl and Omar Coulson are other names that I expect to take a step forward, as well.” 

With the amount of young talent on the roster, if these guys can continue to develop, Ellsworth should be set up well for the next few years. Staley reflects on really starting from scratch during his first season as head coach last year, and what they will continue to work on as team with practices starting on Monday.

“When I took over last year, we had to replace 95% of our scoring and experience from the year before. We are not replacing quite as much this year, but we will be a very young team,” Staley said. “We will be focusing on fundamentals, conditioning and continuing to build our basketball culture.” 

The Panthers season begins in earnest on Friday, Nov. 24 when they will host the Wisconsin Rapids Red Raiders with an unusual tipoff time of noon.

Prescott Cardinals, Ellsworth Panthers, boys basketball, girls basketball, Middle Border