Climb for No. 4

Minot High basketball gears up for unprecedented state title quest

Alex Eisen/MDN Minot High's Peyton Lamoureux (24) takes a shot in a West Region tournament game played last season against Turtle Mountain Community High School.

Standing at the base of the mountain, the peak of winning a fourth straight state championship is masked in the clouds. It’s a feat that has never been accomplished before.

Reaching or even seeing the summit starts with the preparation put in and overcoming potential avalanches along the way. A single slip up can derail the whole mission.

For the Minot High School boys basketball team, the climb back to the top remains a never-ending process.

“The kids have come ready to work,” MHS coach Dean Winczewski said. “There is so much learning that has to go on. It’s stepping stones. Every day at practice, every game, you want to continue to grow and that’s what we have to worry about. Not about any game at this point or even Saturday. It’s about what we are doing, how we are doing it and, by the time we get to March, it’s being the best we can be.”

The experience of conquering this grueling climb three times over is certainly beneficial. But, not every journey is the same. To start, the team has changed.

Alex Eisen/MDN Magicians guard Alex Schimke (left) distributes the ball in game played last season at the Bismarck Event Center.

Gone are the likes of North Dakota Mr. Basketball finalist KyJuan Johnson and second team All-State forward Justin Engg. Effective role players in Trevor Banks, Brett Lunde and Max Olthoff have also moved on.

“More importantly than being good basketball players, they were good people,” Winczewski said. “Essentially, you are looking at trying to replace kids that we relied on and that’s part of the growing process for us.”

Leadership and scoring opportunities expand for senior sharp shooters Peyton Lamoureux and Chandler Albertson, as well as senior forward Lofton Klabunde and junior guard Alex Schimke.

“Those are guys we are going to rely on a lot early on, especially to score and be leaders,” Winczewski said. “Defensively, they will also have a better idea than anybody else on what it’s going to take. We feel like we have 9-10 guys that are going to be able to play, contribute and be active members of what we are doing.”

Albertson added: “Lofton, Alex and Peyton, we have been playing together since fifth grade. We mesh pretty well together. We are also really deep and have a lot of people that we can play with. A lot of younger talent.”

Possible new contributors to the varsity squad include a pair of 6-foot-5 sophomore centers Devin Mikell and Easton Larson, along with sophomore forward Derry Lentz.

On the perimeter, the Magi bring in senior Deven Forbes, junior Hunter Danelson and sophomore Jaxon Gunville.

“We feel like we have a lot of depth, it’s just a matter of which kids are going to step up,” Winczewski said. “We have a tremendous luxury with the number of kids we can play. Fortunately for everybody, we got four kids that have played a lot and have been very successful already. We are going to have to piece it together over time.”

Minot has amassed an impressive 76-5 record over the last three seasons. Four of those five losses have come against Bismarck Century. Yet, the Magi have beat the Patriots when it matters the most to capture the 2015 and 2017 state championships.

Bismarck High, Mandan, Legacy, St. Mary’s and Jamestown were also mentioned as possible threats in the West Region by Winczewski.

But, it’s no secret that everybody is going to be giving Minot its best shot to knock the Magicians off their pedestal.

That’s what makes continued success so hard to maintain.

“We can’t worry about what has gone on in the past,” Winczewski said. “Tremendous accomplishments and obviously the kids can be proud of what they have done. But, really, it’s about this group of guys continuing to learn, figuring out their roles, going out and competing.”

The Magi begin their three-time state title defense Saturday on the road against Grand Forks Red River. The contest scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. following the conclusion of the Minot High girls basketball game against GFRR at 1:45 p.m.

“We just want to find out a little more about ourselves,” Schimke said. “Find out what kind of game we can play well and build toward what we want to be.”

Alex Eisen covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.