John’s Journal: Mountain Iron-Buhl Hoping To Make More History
Girls Basketball Team Wants To Match Football Team’s State Title
Posted: Thursday, March 16, 2023 - 5:11 PM
This school year has already been historic at Mountain Iron-Buhl, with the Rangers winning their first football state championship by taking the Nine-Man title last December at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Two miles away, at the University of Minnesota, the MIB girls basketball team is hoping to bring home another state championship, which would be their first in that sport. The Rangers girls are playing at state for the 14th time, with their best finishes being runner-up in 2012 and 2017.
They cleared the first hurdle with a 65-50 win over Minneota in Thursday’s Class A quarterfinals at Maturi Pavilion. That victory was MIB’s first over Minneota in five meetings at state.
Juniorr Jordan Zubich, one of the marquee individuals among all four classes at state, has committed to the University of North Carolina. But first, she wants to help her team win a state title (and maybe two). Her brother Asher was one of the stars on the MIB football team; he will play that sport at St. Olaf next fall. Their dad, Dan, is the Rangers head football coach.
“I wouldn't say it's pressure, I would say that they're just giving us some luck,” Jordan Zubich said of the football team’s influence on the basketball team. “At our pep rally, we got to talk and I just said, ‘The last time we sent somebody off in this gym, they came back with the state title.’ ”
Against Minneota, Jordan scored a game-high 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting, including 3-for-4 from behind the three-point line. She also had five steals and two assists.
“It’s not pressure, it’s just an exciting time,” said MIB coach Jeff Buffetta. “Our football team pulled off the first one in the history of MIB. And these girls have been here a lot of times and there's no reason why they can't. They know you’ve got to take it one game at a time.”
Buffetta has had a busy week, because he also is the head coach of the MIB boys basketball team. This is his 23rd season as the girls coach; he took over the boys program in 2019-20.
The Rangers boys lost to Deer River 86-73 in overtime Wednesday night in Duluth in the Section 7A semifinals, finishing with a record of 21-8 in pursuit of their first trip to state since 2016. Buffetta drove to the Twin Cities after that game.
Buffetta is a 1994 Mountain Iron-Buhl graduate who also has been on the coaching staffs for volleyball, football, softball and track and field. He was a 2017 inductee into the Minnesota Girls Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Here’s a story I wrote about Buffetta’s dual coaching jobs early in the 2019-20 season: https://www.mshsl.org/about/news/johns-journal/best-2019-20-number-9-one-coach-two-teams-busy-season-mountain-iron-buhl
Minneota Makes It Back To The Tournament
The closest thing to an all-but-automatic entrant at the girls state basketball tournament in recent years has been Minneota. The Vikings have been a dominant Class A team, playing at state this week for the sixth year in a row and 12th time since 2005. They won state titles in 2013, 2019, 2020 and 2021, along with second-place finishes in 2014 and 2022.
As the 2022-23 season began, however, there were some doubts … at least outside the team.
Chad Johnston, the longtime Minneota girls coach, changed jobs and became head coach of the Vikings boys basketball team this year. Assistant coach Al Panka took over as head coach of a girls team that lost a strong senior group from a year ago.
“I thought we had a good chance to (get to state),” Panka said after unseeded Minneota’s loss to Mountain Iron-Buhl. “I know a lot of people didn't. And that was fine. We heard the talk with Chad jumping over that he was going to go to the state tournament with the boys and the girls were not going to be as good. We still got back here so it's a credit to the kids.
“We graduated four seniors and one of our main bench players last year and we fought through some adversity during the season, with some injuries here and there and everything else. But the kids fought hard all year long and they deserve to be here and representing Minneota.”
Minneota junior Faith Myrhe, who scored 14 points, said, “(State) was obviously the ultimate goal. There's a bunch of really great teams in our section and a lot of people were like, ‘Oh, Minneota? They're not going to go to state.’ But it just shows that this program has been built so well.”
Family Affair For Badger/Greenbush-Middle River
These are very busy times for the Dahl family at Badger/Greenbush-Middle River. Brad Dahl is the head coach of the Gators girls basketball team, which is at state for the first time since 2007. The unseeded Gators lost 63-58 in overtime to second-seeded Hayfield in Thursday’s Class 1A quarterfinals.
Brad’s wife, Stacy, is the head coach of the Badgers volleyball team, which went to state in 2021 and 2022. They have three daughters who are three-sport athletes; Cassidy (senior) and Kenzie (sophomore) are on the basketball team, Lexie is a seventh-grader. All three play volleyball, basketball and softball.
Stacy is an English teacher and Brad teaches sixth grade. He also officiates volleyball, softball and baseball … and fills in as a bus driver.
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected]