Hulne: Packers are back in the hunt

Published 7:06 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Ever since the Austin boys basketball team saw its season end in a lop-sided loss to the six-time defending champs DeLaSalle last season, the Packers have been driven to get a rematch on the biggest stage.

But the team isn’t exactly talking about the Islanders yet. Before the Packers even think about playing the top-ranked Islanders, they’ve got to pick up two wins in two days against the state’s best completion. Austin head coach Kris Fadness knows what its like to lose in the first day of the state tournament, like when the Packers had to go home after a first round loss to St. Paul Johnson in 2012.

“The bottom line is you’ve got to go out there and play your first game,” Fadness said. “You can talk about winning a state tournament or being there, but it feels terrible if you lose that first one. We want to worry about that first game and focus on that.”

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This has been a special season for the Packers by every possible measure. They locked up their fifth straight trip to state in seven years, they won a share of the Big Nine title and they scored wins over state qualifying teams like Lakeville North, Minnehaha Academy and Mankato East.

It’s a season the team doesn’t want to end. This year’s senior class has been a staple of the Packer program ever since Tate Hebrink was brought up to varsity as a freshman and the group did a lot of winning at the AYB level.

The Packers are now hoping they can go out on top.

“We’ve got motivation to finish it and bring it home,” Hebrink said.

While some teams with great expectations feel pressure, the Packers have been fearless this season. They didn’t flinch in the Section 1AAA title game when Northfield came back from 24 points down to get within one and they’re not likely to flinch at the state tournament either.

Austin senior Moses Issa said it’s been great to share a fantastic ride with the players he grew up playing with.

“This year has been so much fun. It’s our last time and it’s a great group of guys,” Issa said. “We all know each other so well and this is what we’ve dreamed of since we were kids.”