BROOTEN -- Sporting statistics can be impressive, and that is surely the case with the boys basketball team from Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa. The Jaguars are the biggest little team in Minnesota, capturing the Class 1A state title last season, carrying the No. 1 ranking this season and creeping up on one of the most revered records in state history.
But as is always the case, there are real people and interesting stories behind the numbers.
First, a numerical summary …
--The Jaguars were unbeaten in 33 games last season and will take a 16-0 record into Tuesday night’s game at Eden Valley-Watkins. That’s 49 in a row; if they should finish this season with another perfect record, their streak would be 66. The longest winning streak in boys state basketball history is 69 by Edina between 1965 and 1968. If not for a loss to Springfield in the 2011 state championship game, their winning streak right now would be 82 in a row.
--Since the start of the 2008-09 season the Jaguars have an overall record of 130-10 and a regular-season record of 113-7. Their regular-season winning streak is 78 games in a row.
This run of success began when former 15-year head coach Dave Montbriand -- who had moved to the girls team as an assistant in order to coach his oldest daughter -- returned as boys head coach for the 2008-09 season. That Montbriand ever came to the school in the first place is a story along the lines of “you never know what might happen…”
The 1979 graduate of Bloomington Jefferson thought he would stay in the Twin Cities after college and work as a teacher and coach. He attended the University of St. Thomas before transferring to Hamline, which offered a major in elementary education. He worked as a substitute teacher in the metro for a couple years. Not knowing a thing about small towns, he began applying at places he had never heard of. Brooten was among them (Brooten and Belgrade-Elrosa were separate districts back then).
“I didn’t know where Brooten was,” Montbriand told me before Friday night’s home game against Holdingford. “I figured I’d be here for two or three years and try to get back to the cities. I’ve been here 28 years.”
He’s had opportunities to leave. One came about five years into his career in Brooten when he was offered a teaching job (but no coaching) in Apple Valley.
“My wife was staying at home, which you could afford to do with a couple kids in a small town,” Dave said. “And I started thinking, ‘Is (the job in Apple Valley) a move up?’ I was happy here and I was just the assistant coach at that time. I pretty much decided at that point that I was going to stay here. And now we have four kids and we live right across the street from the school. It takes me 30 seconds to walk to work.”
The Brooten Buccaneers and Belgrade-Elrosa Redmen came together when the schools merged in 1989. When decisions were being made about a nickname and school colors, it’s safe to say that Montbriand had a hand in the final choices being Jaguars and blue and silver … just like at Bloomington Jefferson, where Dave played for Hall of Fame basketball coach Jack Evens.
As for the Jaguars’ current success, Montbriand said, “We had some real good years but nothing like this. Sometimes I can’t believe it’s happening. Obviously we’ve had a run of really good players.
“It’s every coach’s dream to win the state tournament. I coached for 15 years and we didn’t make the state tournament and then I got out of it (to coach the girls). When we just made it to state one year, it was like, ‘Yes! We made it.’ And to get to the finals, then to win it … sometimes I wonder if it happened. I get that feeling all the time; ‘Is this happening?’ ”
As in most small towns, the surnames in the lineup are a constant over the years; Koehler, Kuefler, Goodwin, Borgerding, Imdieke, etc. The starting five in the 2011 state title game consisted of two Koehlers, two Goodwins and a Kuefler.
Three of the current starters -- Brian Goodwin, James Kuefler and Billy Borgerding -- are juniors who have experience in two state title games, including the first championship in any sport since the school districts merged. The 6-foot-4 Goodwin is the top scorer with a 21-point average, the 6-7 Borgerding averages 15 points and the 6-4 Kuefler averages 11 points and 10 rebounds. The other starters are 6-1 junior Trey Heinsus and 5-10 senior Alex Wosmek.
The Jaguars’ biggest game of the season so far will take place Thursday when they go to Melrose. The Dutchmen are ranked No. 2 in Class 2A and should be No. 1 by than, since top-ranked St. Peter lost to Fairmont on Thursday. There will be pressure, but Montbriand stresses to his team that pressure is a good thing.
“There’s always some pressure, but we’ve learned to welcome it and deal with it,” Kuefler said. “We like the pressure.”
Goodwin said, “Before some games he’ll say, ‘Welcome the pressure. Don’t shy away from it. Because it means you’re doing something right.’ And we know teams are going to come out and give us their best.”
Montbriand said he learned that philosophy from Jack Evens, whose teams won four state championships between 1976 and 1987.
"The more people that came to the games, the more attention we got, it was like, ‘Yeah. These games are more important now. This is what we love. This is more of a challenge. This is what makes it fun.' " Montbriand said.
The Jaguars boys play their games in the gym at Brooten Elementary school (where Montbriand teaches fourth grade) while the girls play at the high school in Belgrade. The fans at the boys games all sit on one side of the gym, with the teams on chairs in front of the stage and the scorer’s table on the stage. Two banners on the walls say a lot about the Jaguars: “We Enjoy Defense” and “Stay Hungry. Stay Humble.”
Thursday’s routine before, during and after a 65-32 win over Holdingford was business as usual. Before the game Montbriand stood at a white board in a classroom and the players sat in chairs. He quietly went through some reminders: Don’t wimp out on taking a charge. No matter what happens, defensive effort is crucial.
With a halftime lead of 38-11, the tone was the same. Montbriand talked calmly about a few mental errors and the players listened without making a peep. “This is what I love about you guys,” he said. “What’s the score, 38-13 or something like that? And I come in here and nitpick. But if we make those mistakes against other teams, that could cost us.”
Before the Jaguars went out for the second half, assistant coach (and former head coach) Brad Goodwin offered a reminder, “Smile and have fun, guys.”
The postgame gathering was in the locker room, with the team sitting silently on one long bench and Montbriand standing in front of them. He told them they had done a great job and played hard the whole game, including the reserves who played much of the second half.
“Another weekend is upon us. You’ve done a wonderful job of staying out of trouble. Keep it up; we have a great thing going. Don’t let the team down. This is something special. You won’t realize how special this is until you reflect back in a couple years.”
He told them to stay healthy, with a reminder to wash their hands often.
There are more games to play.
--To see a photo gallery from Friday's game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 421
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 5,982
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn