In a year with an uncertain start date, Owatonna will have a leg up on the competition based on who’s returning.
The Huskies return four starters from a 17-11 campaign that ended with an 80-66 loss to Lakeville South in the Section 1AAAA semifinals. Last year’s leading scorer Even Dushek returns after an outstanding sophomore season where he averaged 20.5 points per game and 9.9 rebounds per game as the team’s 6-foot-7 center. Point guard Nolan Burmeister enters his third varsity season after scoring 6.3 points per game, grabbing 2.5 rebounds a game and dishing out 3.3 assists per game.
Add in Brayden Williams, who emerged as the team’s second-leading scorer at 14 points per game and swingman Payton Beyer, who averaged 10.3 points per game and Owatonna looks like a viable contender in the Big 9 Conference.
The Huskies went 14-8 in conference games last season to finish fifth in a once again loaded league. Mankato East finished ranked No. 2 in Class 3A last season and Austin ranked No. 10 in Class 3A by the Minnesota Basketball News. In Class 4A, Rochester Mayo finished ranked No. 19. Coming into the 2020-21 season, Breakdown Sports has picked Mankato East, with its 29-game conference winning streak, to capture its third straight conference title with Division-I recruit BJ Omot back. The Packers were picked to finish second while Owatonna slotted in at third. Mankato West followed at fourth.
Huskies head coach Josh Williams enters his 18th season leading the team and after spending the first half of last season figuring out where everyone fits on the court, the team can focus on refining things.
“We have a pretty good idea of how we want to play offensively and defensively,” Williams said.
With Dushek inside, Owatonna can stretch the court with Brayden Williams from the outside. Williams shot 38.6% from 3-point range to lead the Huskies. He also led the team in steals and earned all-conference honors.
Burmeister and Beyer can attack the rim so defenses can’t focus entirely on Dushek.
“That’s his strength,” Williams said of Burmeister. “He’s extremely quick and gets to the basket. Payton, he’s more of a drive-first scoring type kid. He can knock down an open shot.”
Junior guard Ty Creger can provide shooting while Lincoln Maher, Lane Versteeg, Abdi Isman, Mason Kunkel and Jack Titchenal will also contribute this season.
Owatonna stood at 5-7 Jan. 14 following a 53-50 overtime loss to Rochester John Marshall, but the Huskies finished the season on a 12-4 run.
“Being a veteran team we can start out faster,” Williams said. “We should be a year ahead from where we were last year.”