As the state-ranked Redwood Valley boys basketball team pushes forward toward a second straight Section 3AA title, the school has decided to honor its former hardwood greats.
Friday night the Cardinals host Windom Area for a boy/girl doubleheader, and at halftime of the boys game the school hopes to recognize as many past state tournament players as possible.
Former players are invited to come to the event, and a ‘reunion’ of sorts is being held in the commons following the game – an opportunity to relive some old memories.
The Cardinals hoops history is a rich and unique one going back to 1930 for the boys and at the beginning of high school athletics for girls in the mid-70s.
The ‘Golden Era’ of Redwood Falls girls basketball just happened to take place at the dawn of the Minnesota State High School League’s inclusion of girls sports into the fold.
Beginning in 1976, the Redwood Falls girls went on a four-year run that saw them capture four straight Region III titles, a state championship in 1976, a state runner-up finish in 1978, a state consolation championship in 1977 (5th) and a sixth place state finish in 1979.
Over the course of those four years, the Cardinals went a remarkable 90-7 (with most of the seven losses coming at state) and dominated its competition in a way we almost assuredly are never going to witness again.
The Cardinals entered the 1976 campaign with a strong cast that featured Isabella Ceplecha, Pam Garrett, Pat Wittwer, Jenny Reek, Paula Stramel and Jean and Joan Hopfenspirger.
Under the direction of head coach Dee Mercie, the Cards would roll to a perfect 22-0 mark and the school’s one and only state title.
During the season, the Cards outscored opponents by a whopping 68.5-30.7 margin and were really only challenged once, in the District 10 title game when they held off a good Morton squad that featured Mary Beth Bidinger, 51-46.
At state, the Cardinals beat Rochester Lourdes 55-42, trounced Edgerton 62-30 in the semifinals and beat Glencoe 41-28 in the title game.
Ceplecha was named the Class A MVP scoring 53 points in the three games.
In 1977, the defending champion Cards featured a talented line-up that included returning players like Jean and Joan Hopfenspirger, Barb Dording, Dawn Zimmerman, Anne Pryor and Garrett.
The Cardinals got a scare from Murdock in the Region III final, scoring the game’s final 12 points to win 36-32 and moved on to state.
Other than a tough 42-38 loss to Heron Lake in its state quarterfinal game, the Cards played well and would win two more games – over Alden-Conger and Fertile-Belrtrami – to earn the consolation title and finish with a mark of 22-2.
New head coach Kris Nelson would inherit a seasoned team in 1978 with the Hopfenspirgers, Pryor, Dording, Zimmerman, Holly Gilland, Lorie Kammerer and Sandy Prahl all part of strong cast.
The girls would outscore opponents 64.2-36.3 on the way to a 22-0 record and yet another Region III title.
At state, the Cards played inspired ball, topping Albany 47-37 and Spring Valley 44-28 to reach the state title game against the highly touted Janet Karvonen and her New York Mills team.
The Cards would ultimately fall 64-55 but would finish 24-1 and as state runners-up.
After dominating competition for three straight years, it was interesting how the Cardinals opponents as well as the press referred to the girls as being “overly aggressive”.
The late, great Redwood Gazette Sports Editor John Schneider had these memorable takes on those sentiments.
“I guess the Redwood girls are supposed to go out and play like pink pussycats. You show me an unaggressive team, in any sport boys or girls, and I’ll show you a swell loser, the kind everybody just loves to play.”
The 1979 girls would cap off the amazing four year run with yet another Region III title, a 22-4 record and a sixth place finish at state.
No Cardinal girls basketball teams have reached the state tournament since.
Of note, Barb (Dording) is the mother of current Cardinal starting center Beau Stough.
Following 18 years of mediocrity, the Redwood Falls boys basketball team ushered in what would amount to be its ‘Golden Era’ with the arrival of head coach John Jimenez and assistant coach Todd Iverson in 1994-95.
The duo brought a winning record and a winning attitude and instantly changed the culture of the program by taking the Cardinals from a three-win team in 1993-1994 to the state tournament in their first season at the helm.
The 1995 season was a memorable one, as junior newcomer Luke Jimenez – a future 2,000-plus points scorer – teamed up with freshman sensation David Homan and a strong senior class that included bigman Seth Breitkreutz to finish 21-7, capture the SWC title and beat MACCRAY 78-73 in the Section title game.
Redwood Valley would ultimately fall 64-53 to St. Agnes in the first year of the newly formed “Sweet Sixteen” format that saw Khalid El-Amin and Minneapolis North edge Staples-Motley 54-52 in the state title game.
Following a heartbreaking 1995-96 campaign – that saw the Cardinals rack up a 25-0 record only to lose a heartbreaker to MACCRAY in the Section title game – the team again found its way back to the state tournament in 1996-97 with another unbelieveable stretch of victories that included 26 straight wins, yet another SWC title and a Section championship.
Led by an athletic junior class that included Homan (1,865 career points), Josh Preusse (1,077 career points), Jacob Frank, Mike Nester, Jeff Radel and sophomores Joe Madson, Andy Regnier and Bryan Toft the Cardinals would go into their state tournament match-up with Minneapolis DeLaSalle ranked second in the state.
Leading 29-14 at the half, the Cardinals appeared to be in a great position to move into the state semis, but the Islanders would rally to stun the Cards 57-49.
The stage was set the following season for the Class of ’98 to do something special.
With arguably the most talented Cardinal team ever, the Cards didn’t disappoint, as they rolled through the regular season undefeated and with the number one ranking in the state.
During its four Section tournament games – including a 71-53 win over Morris Area in the Section final – the Cardinals won by an average of 24 points and prior to state won by double-digits in 23 of its 26 games on the way to a perfect 26-0 mark.
In the quarterfinals of state, the heavily favored Cardinals picked the wrong time to have an off night, as Kenyon-Wanamingo stunned the Cardinals 55-47 to end the season in heartache.
It was the end of the road for a strong senior class that was part of a landmark turnaround for the program as they captured four straight SWC titles, three Section crowns and went 98-10 in Jimenez’s first four years.
Iverson would then take over for Jimenez as head coach and the Cards didn’t skip a beat, heading back to the state tournament in 1999-2000 with a record of 22-4 and a 47-40 victory over Morris Area in the Section final.
Led by seniors Scott LeSage and Matt Pendleton as well as sophomores Aaron Busack and Jason Busack, Travis Bruns, Eric Hilde-brandt and Joe Larson the Cards headed into the state quarterfinals as heavy underdogs to Minneapolis DeLaSalle.
The gutty Cards hung tough for the entire game, battling down to the wire before a last second three-pointer fell short and DeLaSalle would escape with a 55-52 win.
Two years later in 2002, the Busack’s – now seniors – teamed up with a talented cast that included juniors Mike Yrjo and Mike Karsky, sophomores Tim Madson, Travis Fluck and Chad Norberg and fellow seniors Marshall Meier and Nick Arnett to make a memorable run and end the Cards state tournament heartache.
Redwood Valley would rack up a 20-6 mark heading into state, including a 70-51 victory over MACCRAY in the Section final.
Trailing 30-20 at halftime in its state quarterfinal showdown with Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, the Cardinals would rally for a 51-43 victory and a spot in the state semifinals against former Redwood Valley teammate David Zellmann and Lewiston-Altura.
Zellmann would get the better of the Cards in the semis, as Lewiston-Altura would edge Redwood Valley 50-43.
The Cardinals would respond by beating Long Prairie/Grey Eagle 48-34 in the third place game.
Yrjo and Aaron Busack would be named to the All-Tournament team that featured two former Redwood Valley boys in Zellmann and champion Litchfield’s Hans Hoeg.
In the eight-year stretch from 1995-2002 under Jimenez and Iverson, the Cardinal boys went 181-30 with five Section titles and two Section runner-up finishes.
A run that will most likely never be duplicated again.
The hiring of Markus Okeson in 2009 – a multiple state championship winner as the head coach at Ellsworth – also brought about a change for the better, as the Cards made a memorable run in the 2011 postseason.
The Cardinals were led by a talented two-man combo of Mike Busack and J.T.?Radel.
The duo each surpassed 1,000 career points during the season and each averaged more than 21 ppg.
Supporting cast members included a strong senior group with names like Jesse Leith, Cole Huhnerkoch, Taylor Hengel, Trevor Sandgren, Brennan Baune and sophomores Alec Koster and Jordan Ford.
Following a 17-7 regular season, the Cards headed into a difficult Section as underdogs but would stun Montevideo – who had beaten them in the regular season – in the Section 3AA-Sub-Section North final on a last second three-pointer by Busack.
In an epic Section 3AA title game, the Cards took out Windom Area – a team that had thumped them twice in the regular season – in four overtimes 60-58 to advance to state.
In the quarterfinals of the state tournament, Busack scored 28 points and grabbed 19 boards and Radel added 23 points as the Cards topped Minnehaha Academy 70-65.
In the state semifinals the Cards were involved in another playoff epic, this time losing in four overtimes to Rochester Lourdes 48-42.
They would finish with a record of 22-9 – falling 67-64 to Water-ville/Elysian-Morristown in the third place game.
Busack averaged 20.3 ppg and 17 rpg, and Radel had 18 ppg and 5.6 rpg to earn spots on the All-Tournament team.
Of note, assistant coach Tom?Jacobson has been on the bench for all six of the Cardinals state tournament berths since 1995.
Prior to the mid-90s, the Cardinals had a memorable run in 1977 as the boys ended a 43-year state tournament drought with a strong postseason performance.
The Cardinals – under head coach Bob Torgrimson – went just 12-8 in the regular season but would win five straight tournament games – including a 56-48 win over Benson in the Region III title game to earn a spot at state.
The Cardinals were led by Tom Busack, Scott Aune, Tim Jahnke, Scott Becker, Mark Vanderwerf, Jim McKay, Kurt Baker, Bruce Kaardal and Mark Dingmann and would go 1-2 at state.
Redwood Falls would lose its opener 70-35 to Winona Cotter, rebound to beat Twin Valley 58-56 and would lose 82-60 to Marshall-University (Mpls) to finish out the season with a mark of 18-10.
Of note, Busack is the father of current Redwood Valley standout Mike Busack.
The Cardinals were represented twice in the 1930s beginning in 1930 under the direction of head coach Ken Stockton.
That season the Cardinals went 20-3, going 2-1 at state – earning the consolation title – with wins over Wells 26-16 and Columbia Heights 25-19. Its only loss was an opening round 26-13 defeat at the hands of Chisholm.
In 1934, the Cardinals again returned to state, this time under the direction of coach Jim Brown.
The Cardinals would rack up a record of 16-3 overall.
At state the Cards would finish fourth, winning 24-16 over Minneapolis South in the opener, then falling 21-17 to Mechanic Arts in the semifinals and 24-16 to Moorhead in the third place game