Dispatch Player of the Year: Young Oehrlein starts career on fire

Crosby-Ironton seventh grader earns 2021 Dispatch Player of the Year.

Tori Oehrlein plays against Pequot Lakes March 8, 2021. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

For the second year in a row, the Dispatch area girls basketball player of the year is a Crosby-Ironton Ranger.

This year, however, it belongs to a seventh grader.

Not just any seventh grader though, as Tori Oehrlein proved she was worthy finishing with 456 points (21.7 per game), 212 rebounds (10.1 per game), 140 assists (6.7 per game), 60 steals and 20 blocked shots. She shot 50% (165-330) from the field, 45% (67-148) from 3-point and 66% (54-81) from the free throw line.

She led the area in points, rebounds, assists and 3-point shooting as well as leading the Rangers to the Section 7-2A semifinals.

Oehrlein was told by coaches before the season that she would have to take over more of the scoring. This came after it was known last year’s player of the year Lily Peterson would be sidelined for the season with an ACL tear.


“My expectations were not that high, but I did reach them,” Oehrlein said. “I was kind of nervous about it at first, but in the middle of the season, I wasn’t as scared. Lily was one of the leaders and I knew I couldn’t take her role and she was really missed on the court.”

Peterson did take a step back and help the seventh grade from the bench. Rangers head coach Peter Vukelich called Peterson a great assistant coach all season.

“It’s tough to replace a senior,” Vukelich said. “You know, she’s the reigning player of the year. She was a special player and for Tori to take on that 100% responsibility of ball handler was a big relief.

“Talking to Lily at the start of the year, I told her that she was going to be as much a part of this team as she was as a player. She was one of the best assistants that I’ve ever had for not just Tori, but all the girls.”

Oehrlein said it was nice to have Peterson in her ear.

“She helped me be mentally prepared for the game,” she said.

Vukelich remembers watching Oehrlein on the C-squad knowing she would be a special talent.

“You knew it was going to be something special, but until you see it on the floor with all her teammates we really saw what Tori is and what she could be,” he said. “Her drive to win is some of the best I’ve seen in any girl I’ve coached.”


Especially during playoff time. Vukelich would give his seventh grader the green light to take over games.

“We didn’t want her to worry about us yelling at her to be less selfish,” Vukelich said. “It’s crazy that we had to tell a seventh grader to be more selfish. It’s a great characteristic to have.”

Oehrlein is a 5-foot-10 guard, so to average 10 rebounds a contest was a big boost to C-I’s offense.

“I just think I want it and have the heart to go for the ball,” Oehrlein said. “It really gets in the other team’s head when you get a rebound on the offensive end.”

Vukelich wasn’t able to be at the first two games of the season due to the birth of his daughter. He watched the first game and coached from home. When he realized Oehrlein tallied 23 rebounds against Detroit Lakes, he could hardly believe it.

“This is something special,” Vukelich said. “As we went on Tori would see a lot of boxes and ones and junk defenses, so we started inserting her inside. So she would get a lot of putbacks because of the way they would be defending her.”

Back when Vukelich played, he remembers face guarding Bryce Tesdahl, two-time Dispatch boys basketball player of the year, during practice. To see a seventh grader get face-guarded he said was something new.

“It was crazy,” he said. “You know Bryce Tesdahl is our all-time leading scorer and Tori will probably surpass that. To guard him every day in a box-in-one and I was always the guy to box-in-one other players. For Tori to see it at this young of an age is something she is going to see the rest of her life. But as a seventh grader us coaches were like ‘Whoa’ it was definitely something new to us.”


Although she averaged over 20 points a game, Oehrlein likes to make the pass to a teammate more than seeing the ball go through herself.

“The girls run the floor and I like to involve my whole team into the game, not just one person,” she said. “I get more excited when my teammates score and it gets the energy going for our team.”

Vukelich said her vision is impressive.

“If you are paying attention at all to what Paige Bueckers is doing at (The University of Connecticut), Tori and her I know have done a few workouts together and Paige is her idol,” Vukelich said. “The way Paige passes the ball that’s what Tori wants to do. She wants to involve her teammates and when she gets older she’ll realize when she has to take over.”

As for the shooting stroke, Oehrlein said she gets up around 500 shots a day.

“That helps,” she said. “I think playing AAU got me comfortable with shooting from 3-point.”

Vukelich said it would’ve been interesting who would have stayed in the gym longer if Oehrlein and Peterson both were healthy.

“(Oehrlein) is one of the biggest gym rats I know,” Vukelich said. “Tori is really good about before games getting that pregame workout in and a lot of her scoring would come in the second half. She just had good confidence too.”


Oehrlein came in with a lot of hype surrounding her, but she’s tried to just focus on her game.

“I just have to keep working on my stuff and get better,” she said. “I think I need to improve mostly on my defense which will come with more experience.”

Vukelich is excited to see what the next five years will look like for Oehrlein in a Rangers’ uniform.

“I think girls are getting excited because they see that hard work pays off,” Vukelich said. “They know we have a great player and we have to start building around this seventh grader. There are some pieces around that which will help make this a memorable run as long as she’s in the maroon and white.”

List of Dispatch Player of the Year

2019-20: Lily Peterson, Crosby-Ironton

2018-19: Olivia Lane, Pequot Lakes


2017-18: Olivia Lane, Pequot Lakes

2016-17: Kylee Heurung, Brainerd

2015-16: Haley Wiebolt, Pequot Lakes

2014-15: Grace Wolhowe, Staples-Motley

2013-14: Vanessa Lane, Pequot Lakes

2012-13: Tatum Sheley, PRB

2011-12: Mattie Lueck, Pequot Lakes

2010-11: Emily Lueck, Pequot Lakes


2009-10: Nikki Pearson, S-M; Emily Lueck, Pequot Lakes

2008-09: Sara Hoge, Aitkin; Emily Mehr, Aitkin

2007-08: Taylor Sheley, PRB

2006-07: Kayla Huether, Brainerd

2005-06: Chelsea Lundgren, C-I

2004-05: Flecia Foster, Pequot Lakes; Teresa Parker, Pequot Lakes

2003-04: Michelle Honek, SM

CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or Follow on Twitter at

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