Girls hoops opens season with a split

By Bruce Karnick
Posted 12/5/23

The Raiders girls basketball team was the second team to finally start their winter season schedule, something fans were very excited about. First on the schedule was the home/season opener against …

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Girls hoops opens season with a split


The Raiders girls basketball team was the second team to finally start their winter season schedule, something fans were very excited about. First on the schedule was the home/season opener against Park of Cottage Grove on blackout night, a night to honor longtime girls’ basketball fan and youth coach Bill Ruder. Hastings won that outing 55-28 on Tuesday night. Then on Friday night, the Raiders fell at Burnsville 53-52.

The gym was electric for the home opener against Cottage Grove, largely due to the blackout night that was put together by the boosters. Bill Ruder is a teacher in the district and has coached many of the current Raider ladies’ basketball players, including his daughter, Kate. Bill was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer less than two months ago and because of his connection to the players and parents, the boosters worked to get the girls special warmup shirts for the season.

The shirts were supposed to be a semi-private nod to Bill for the team, but that is not how the Hastings sports community works. Word quickly spread and it rapidly ballooned into the families wanting a shirt for themselves. Then more sports families, coaches and staff heard about it which ultimately led to all of the above having the opportunity to join in support of the Ruders. This community, especially the sports community, supports each other like a tight-knit family, and that led to hosting the blackout night.

The afternoon of the game, Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Trent Hanson was sent a message to read prior to the game on behalf of Bill. Hanson introduced himself and as soon as he said he had a message from Bill to read, the gym went so silent, you could have heard a pin drop. It was amazing.

“It is my pleasure and an honor at this time to read a personal message from a colleague and dear friend Bill Ruder with all of you tonight, so these are Bill's words. Here we go,” said Hanson.

Hello Raider Nation. As you know, a few months ago, our family received an awful diagnosis concerning my health. It hit us hard as you can imagine. As we wrestle with this difficulty, our family is choosing to live gratefully. We're grateful for the time we have today for each other, and also for the community of Hastings.

During this difficult season, you rose up and showed our family love and support on a scale I cannot put into words. Your kindness has pulled me personally through many dark moments. Please know each note and every prayer is felt and helps give us strength and healing. Many of you are here tonight to show us your support. This touches us to the core, and we thank you.

Students often asked me what my favorite sport is. Without hesitation I always reply, high school girls’ basketball.

At that point, the crowd let out a round of applause and cheers for that answer. Hanson continued.

I love sitting in the stands and cheering on this team more than anything. Kate is a pretty big reason for that, but I've had the blessing to coach many of these young women either through traveling or in-house, they're all special to me. I wish I could be there. To the boosters and those who organized this event. Thank you. I'm honored and accept your love and kindness; I have my t-shirt on and I'm ready to get this game going. Let's go Raiders!

Upon concluding the statement from Bill, Hanson went off script for a very touching moment.

“So, the one unscripted part that I don't have written down but we're going to roll with this anyway. I do know that Bill is at home, and he's watching through the lens of those HCTV cameras that are up behind most of you. So, what I would ask you to do this time, I'd invite you to please stand, and join me in a big wave and a huge round of applause at that big camera right back there for Mr. Bill Ruder, we love you, man,” said Hanson as the crowd erupted.

The emotional kickoff to the season set the tone for the game. Hastings dominated the Wolfpack. With 10:07 left in the first half, Hastings was up 20-3. The Raiders were the perfect mix of quickness in transition and aggressiveness when they needed to be. One thing was clear, they had their foot on the gas the entire time.

The most uplifting part of the night was every time Kate Ruder touched the ball, you could tell the crowd was waiting for her to score and the moment she did they went absolutely crazy, drawing a heartfelt smile from the junior. Hastings took a 33-11 lead to the locker room at the half. The night was about to get a bit crazier for the Raiders.

About a minute into the intermission, a fire alarm went off in the school. Everyone assumed it was a false alarm because there was no noticeable fire or smoke anywhere. It turned out that there was a small fire in a room on the other side of the school, so the building did need to be cleared until the Hastings Fire Department gave the all-clear, which took about 15 minutes from the time the evacuation started.

Once the all-clear was given the halftime resumed and that gave the Raiders a chance to work out a plan for the second half. With the large lead, every one of the 16 girls that suited up for the varsity game saw playing time. Hastings ended up winning 55-28.

Haley Strain led the Raiders with 22 points on 13 rebounds. Emma Bakker and Keagan McVicker each scored 10 points with Bakker logging seven rebounds and McVicker six.

The girls then traveled to Burnsville on Dec. 1 to take on the Blaze. Burnsville had a lead most of the game but closed out the first half only up one. The second half saw a lot of lead changes to start but Burnsville tried to pull away near the end. A key foul on a Burnsville player and a resulting technical foul when she pleaded her case gave Hastings the opportunity to take the one-point lead with very little time left on the clock. Burnsville regained the lead 53-52 with less than five seconds to play to hold on to the lead.

One huge factor in this game was McVicker and Strain, two of the Raiders top scorers found themselves in foul trouble early, much to the surprise of Raiders fans. Bakker, the third side of the top-scoring triangle for the Raiders had a great game and played extremely well, scoring 16 for the night. Sophie Swanson, Lindsey Wagner and Rachel Notch stepped up big as well, each scoring six. Despite their best efforts, they could not overcome the home cooking of the Blaze.

The next chance to catch the Raiders in action is Dec. 8 at Rochester Mayo for a 7:30 tip. They return home to host Ellsworth on Dec. 12 at 7:00 as part of a four-game-plus homestand to finish out 2023 with their Christmas Tournament.