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Boys' Basketball: Long layoff doesn’t stop New Life Academy

New Life Academy forward Zach Thor looks to the hoop. (Bulletin photo by Blaze Fugina)1 / 4
Chris Ketema takes a contested look in front of a Randolph defender during the championship game of the holiday tournament in Cannon Falls. (Bulletin photo by Blaze Fugina)2 / 4
Guard Adam Busch considers taking an open look. (Bulletin photo by Blaze Fugina)3 / 4
Jaxson Kavanagh races around a pick set by teammate Drew Wynia on Friday. (Bulletin photo by Blaze Fugina)4 / 4

You would think a 20-day break between games would be a problem for a high school basketball team.

But it wasn’t for New Life Academy this week. A total of 20 days passed between a Dec. 9 win against Concordia Academy and this week’s games in the Cannon Falls-Randolph Holiday Tournament. Winter weather postponed a scheduled game for Dec. 16, which was followed by the school’s holiday break.

The Eagles cruised through the first round of the tournament Thursday with an 87-66 victory over North Branch. And there was no letdown the next day in a 57-23 win against Randolph.

“I actually told the guys it was like we started our season over again,” head coach Doug Linton said after Friday’s win against Randolph. “We had the long layoff because of that cancellation. We had a lot of practice time which was good, but we kind of missed playing.”

Randolph tried to slow down its attack on offense against New Life Academy’s zone defense early in the tournament’s championship game Friday. While the Rockets controlled the ball most of the half, New Life Academy was efficient enough on offense to build a 23-10 lead at halftime.

“I think they were trying to slow it down and get us off of our game,” guard Adam Busch said.

Already leading by 13 points, the Eagles came out in the second half determined to put the game away. They started out with a 7-0 run to pull ahead 30-10 with 12 minutes remaining in regulation.

The lead continued to grow until Linton decided to give the varsity starters a rest. By that time the Eagles held a 55-19 lead with 3:30 remaining in the game.

Three New Life Academy players finished with double-digit points on Friday. Busch led with 18 points, followed by Grant Dodds and Kyle Kaemingk with 10 each.

The Eagles needed to shake off a little rust in the first game of the tournament on Thursday against North Branch. But the players credited a few tricks for helping them stay fresh coming off the long break between games. The work included scrimmages against some of the program’s alumni during practice.

“I think it made it a little bit harder,” Kaemingk said about the layoff. “If we were playing consistently, I feel we would have been more in the swing of things. But we did play with some of the alumni, so that gave us some good competition and some different looks.”

New Life Academy improved to a record of 5-0 with the two wins in the holiday tournament. But challenging games lie ahead on the schedule next week.

Class 2A’s second-ranked team Minnehaha is on the schedule for Tuesday, followed by conference opponent PACT Charter on Thursday. The Eagles will also play St. Croix Lutheran on Saturday.

It is safe to say the break from games is over for New Life Academy.

“It will be a good test for us to see where we stand as a team, and see what we really need to improve on,” Kaemingk said. “I’m excited. It will be fun.”