Rocky Hulne: Overachieving Packer girls are aiming for an upset on Friday night

Published 2:51 pm Wednesday, March 8, 2023

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When most programs graduate their all-time leading scorer and a future NJCAA Region XIII MVP, they are going to struggle re-stocking the cupboard with talent.

Don’t say that to Austin head girls basketball coach Eric Zoske as his Packers have defied the odds this winter. Austin not only graduated Hope Dudycha, the program’s top scorer, but they also lost her twin sister Hope Dudycha and Reana Schmitt, the team’s defensive anchor last year.

All three of those players played in college this season with the Dudycha’s at University of Minnesota Crookston and Schmitt playing a huge role for the NJCAA Division III National Tournament bound Blue Devils.

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Going into this season, the Packers knew they would get a lot of leadership, hustle and scoring from seniors Cassidy Shute and Olivia Walsh, who has competed in state swimming, state track and field and state basketball. But beyond that, there were a lot of question marks.

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought this may be a rebuilding year for the Packers as the team had to bring up a handful of middle schoolers to shore up the bench. I am glad to say they proved me wrong.

Austin, which has played in the last two Minnesota Class AAA Girls State Basketball Tournaments, didn’t show any signs of slowing down this season. The Packers (20-8 overall) finished third in a highly competitive Big Nine Conference and they are back in the Section 1AAA title game for the third straight season.

More impressively, the Packers have done it with a complete change of pace. After playing a run and gun style that looked to wear opponents down over the past few years, the Packers have slowed it down and focused on defense this season as they are allowing just 51.6 points per game.

Austin has accomplished this with a few small adjustments, as Walsh, one of the most athletic players to come through Austin in over a decade, moving to the center position and defensive minded sophomore and two-time state cross country qualifier Marissa Shute moving to the starting lineup.

Cassidy Shute has proven to be an all-around glue player on defense and offense, and much of Austin’s scoring has come from its two youngest starters — sophomore Ajiem Agwa and eighth grader Quinn Osgood.

Agwa has a quick first step and solid jump shot and Osgood, who worked her way up the lineup throughout the year, has one of the best jump shots of any player in the area.

The Packers will put it all on the line when they play top-seeded Stewartville in the Section 1AAA title game in Mayo Civic Center at 6 p.m. Friday. The Tigers (26-2 overall) beat Austin 75-50 on Jan. 14.

The Packers will be hoping to pull off an upset and they may just be able to do it, but either way it would be great to see a sea of red in the Civic Center crowd Friday.