Area Male Athlete: Connell sparks success in S-M

Blake Connell Year: Senior School: Staples-Motley Sport: Basketball Position: Point Guard Highlights: Scored 30 points against Crosby-Ironton and 18 against Verndale It hasn't been easy even though Blake Connell has made it look that way. After t...

Blake Connell
Blake Connell

Blake Connell

Year: Senior

School: Staples-Motley

Sport: Basketball

Position: Point Guard


Highlights: Scored 30 points against Crosby-Ironton and 18 against Verndale

It hasn't been easy even though Blake Connell has made it look that way.

After transferring from rival Wadena-Deer Creek, Connell has assimilated himself into the Staples-Motley Cardinals culture and added his own flair to the boys basketball team.

The senior point guard has brought a fearless confidence to a team that went 10-16 and lost in the second round of the Section 6-2A playoffs last season.

Connell's confidence and ability to dictate a game was on display Jan. 30 when he drained 30 points to lead S-M to a 81-73 victory over Crosby-Ironton at Crosby.

"Our entire team was thinking it was a winnable game," said Connell. "We had a chance to move into the second spot in the conference. We just had to play with confidence. It didn't hurt that the shots were falling."

Those shots fell early and often for Connell, who finished 7-of-12 from 3-point and 11-of-23 from the field. He also added five steals. Connell displayed a fearlessness to shoot from anywhere, at anytime no matter how well defended

"What that does is it rubs off on everyone else," S-M head coach Micheal Poncelet said. "The other players see that and they see their leader playing with no fear. To go to Crosby and shoot the way he does and looking at when we played Pequot the first time, there isn't a challenge that is too big for him. He rubs off on everyone else."


Apparently in a good way, but it took time. Connell said it was hard at first to fit into the crowd. During tryouts he decided to play with confidence and shoot from whereever he had to. The coaches took notice. His teammates took notice, too.

"I just had to pinpoint what the team needed in general," said Connell. "All along I felt like I could adapt to the team, whether it was on or off the court. I had to figure out what they needed from me, whether it was scoring or passing. I knew I had to be an extension of the coach and I just tried to play that role."

On the season, he is averaging 15.9 points, 3.2 rebounds. 2.8 assists and 2.8 steals a game. He leads the team with 46 made 3-pointers.

Connell scored 18 points to lead the Cardinals to a 74-57 win over Verndale Jan. 27. He tallied another 18 in a win against his former team Jan. 20. He scored 16 in a 78-74 victory over Park Rapids. Those four wins put S-M over .500 for the first time this season.

"He's brought a level of athleticism that we didn't have prior to that," Poncelet said. "Before we were thinking about running two posts and being strong with our two football captains in the middle. He changed that. He added a ball handler, who could shoot from the outside. He's got some pretty good quickness, too."

Last season, Connell was the third leading scorer on the Wolverines averaging 11.0 points to go with 2.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.8 steals. He shot 34.7 percent from 3-point (35-96) and 40.4 percent from the field.

"At the beginning of the season we went over our goals and it was to make the subsection finals and win the conference championship," Connell said. "We're not in the running for the conference as that will go to Detroit Lakes, but our other goal looks like it's much more in reach.

"We have more team chemistry. It's way higher than it used to be. That's a really big deal. We had a lot of different guys contribute in that C-I win. We need to keep that up. We're playing a lot better than we have been. We play a lot of good teams, but we're just as good a team as any of them. We just need to play with confidence and execute."


Other notable performances:

Basketball: Wyatt Sanford, Aitkin, scored 33 points against Onamia.

Nathan Davies, Aitkin, finished with 33 points against Onamia and 25 against East Central.

Zach Struss, Pine River-Backus, scored 27 points against Blackduck.

Noah Gindorff, Crosby-Ironton, finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds against Pine River-Backus and 30 points, 14 rebounds, seven blocked shots and three steals against Staples-Motley.

Abe Imdieke, Lake Region, finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds against Foreston.

Noah Boser, Pierz, scored 25 points against Kimball.

Aaron Weber, Pierz, finished with 29 points against Paynesville.


Hockey: Ezra Spandl, Little Falls, finished with 37 saves in a 3-0 shutout of St. Cloud Cathedral to snap an eight-game losing streak to the Crusaders.

Nordic ski: Hunter Zupko, Little Falls, won the classic portion of the Granite Ridge Conference championship in 10:10.

Wrestling: Alex Erpelding, Eric Lisson, Jake Swendsrud, Kyle Serich, Staples-Motley, won individual titles at the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley tournament.

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 855-5856 or . Follow on Twitter at .

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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