Eagan boys showing they’re competitive

Gorder averaging 22.7 points for basketball team

Eagan had no illusions about being favored when it took the floor against No. 2-ranked Apple Valley in a South Suburban Conference boys basketball game Tuesday night.

But coach Matt Vollum said he felt a lot better about his team’s chances than he might have a month ago.

“I honestly believe we’re going to compete,” Vollum said Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before the Wildcats lost 74-63 at Apple Valley. “Are we going to win? I don’t know, and it’s kind of irrelevant in my mind. I want to see if we can step up to the challenge and force Apple Valley to do some (different) things and play to us. We have one more game against them this season and we could play them again in the section (tournament), so this game will give us an idea of what we need to do.”

The first part of the season has mostly been about Vollum, the Wildcats’ first-year head coach, learning the strengths and weaknesses of his team. The players, meanwhile, have had to adjust to the expectations of a new coaching staff.

So far, so good. Eagan went 5-3 in its first eight games. The first two losses were by a combined five points.

“Going into the season, I really had no idea how good we might be,” Vollum said. “I watched them a lot in the summer, but that’s a different style of play. I thought we’d be a good defensive team because we’re pretty long and athletic, but I didn’t know that we’d be able to score as much as we have.”

The Wildcats averaged almost 70 points through their first eight games. What they lack in pure perimeter shooters and unstoppable low-block scorers, they’ve made up with determination and intelligence, Vollum said.

Junior guard Michael Gorder is a prime example. After averaging about four points a game last season, he’s second in the conference this year with a 21.5 average.

“It’s safe to say he’s been one of our pleasant surprises,” Vollum said about Gorder. “He’s really crafty. He can score in a number of different ways – threes, drives to the basket, offensive rebounds. He sees the floor well and is able to take advantage of the things he sees out there.”

Gorder scored 36 points in the Wildcats’ 83-81 loss to Lakeville North on Jan. 3. The Panthers’ J.P. Macura had 32 to boost his conference-leading scoring average to 27.3 a game.

Macura also is one of the conference’s surprise stories after playing hardly at all last season for a Lakeville North team that reached the state Class 4A championship game.

Eagan senior guard Ryan Johnson had 13 points against Lakeville North. Gorder had 21 points and senior forward Brian Koenig 11 as Eagan defeated St. Michael-Albertville 58-50 in a non-conference game Saturday.

Johnson had 15 points in the Apple Valley game to lead four Eagan players who reached double figures.

Senior forward Mark Woodcock and sophomore guard G.T. Johnson have been the Wildcats’ rebounding leaders, Vollum said. Johnson’s effectiveness on the boards has been another surprise. “He really goes after the ball,” the coach said.

Vollum said he’s still learning about his squad, but it appears the pieces are in place for the Wildcats to be a team opponents have to take seriously.

“Maybe if we’d done a few things differently we could have started out 7-0,” Vollum said, “but I’m happy with what I’ve seen so far.”

Girls basketball

Eagan’s girls were 9-3 overall and 3-2 in the South Suburban Conference after defeating Apple Valley 62-60 on Tuesday night.

Sammie Delzotto had 14 points, Kelli Wickard 13 and Olivia Weinberger 10 for the Wildcats, who trailed 34-27 at halftime.

Senior captains Bryn Parsons and Delzotto scored 19 and 12 points in a 58-52 loss to Lakeville North last Friday.

Eagan had a five-game winning streak before falling to Lakeville North, including three victories at the St. Olaf Invitational. The Wildcats’ other two losses were to Edina and Eastview, both of which were in the top six in last week’s state Class 4A rankings.

Parsons (13.1 points per game) and Delzotto (12) are the Wildcats’ leading scorers. Sophomore forward Dani Bischoff averages 9.1 points.

Eagan played at home against Rosemount on Thursday. The Wildcats travel to Prior Lake for a 7 p.m. game Jan. 15.