Boys basketball closes out 2020-2021 season with end-of-the-year awards banquet

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

On Tuesday night, the St. James boys basketball team put a bow on its 2020-2021 season with an end-of-the-season banquet held at the American Legion.

The Saints finished the year at 2-17, going 0-10 in the Big South Conference and 0-7 in the section. St. James's only two wins on the year were over Emmanuel Lutheran, 72-55, and New Richland-H-E-G, 67-60.

The Saints lost their subsection opener against Pipestone 52-38.

Despite the record, head coach Spencer Monson highlighted some positives for the Saints, including a close loss to Windom—who advanced to the subsection 3AA south championship game—and Blue Earth Area, who spent most of the season ranked in the top-20 in Class AA.

"I feel like we were a good team," said Monson. "I feel like almost every game we gave ourselves a chance. We were right up there until the very end and the ball wouldn't bounce our way or the other team would find a way to pull it out. But I do think that is going to pay off for us in future years. You need to fail first in order to learn how to succeed."

Monson also touched upon the team's defensive improvement, allowing five fewer points per game than a season ago, despite losing a handful of key contributors from last year's squad.

The only mainstay in the rotation that won't be back for the Saints next year is Michael Suarez, who Monson lauded for his toughness, heart, and willingness to guard multiple positions. For his intangibles and effort, Suarez earned the "Mr. Hustle" Award.

Also graduating from the program is guard, Juan Castaneda.

Monson noted Suarez's ability to get hot from behind the three-point arc. Suarez averaged six points per game in the starting lineup for the Saints, and canned 24 three-pointers, tied with Hayden Jones for second on the club behind sophomore Alex Stresemann. Suarez finishes his Saints career with 56 three-point makes, tied for 21st with Jon Price ('95).

"He could change the momentum of a game when he got hot, when he got going," said Monson.

Stresemann showed continued improvement throughout the year for Monson's club, starting as a bench piece, and working his way into the starting lineup, and a valuable secondary scorer for the Saints.

Stresemann averaged 7.4 ppg, second on the team. For his progression, Stresemann earned the Most Improved Award.

Hayden Jones earned team MVP honors, averaging 23.4 ppg, and being the only Saint to average double-figures in scoring. Jones also led the Saints in assists (65), rebounds (146), steals (30), and blocks (7). Jones did much of his damage from the foul line, hitting 119 free throws, tied for 7th most in a single season.

While Jones managed to crack the 30-point plateau five times in his junior year, with a career-high 35 against Fairmont, Jones' season highlight came from the foul stripe, connecting on a free throw for his 1,000th point during a 69-49 loss to St. Peter.

Jones sits 8th in school history in scoring at 1,061 points and could make a run at a top-two spot, sitting 585 points behind Tyler Kaus' second-place mark of 1,646. In a shortened 2020-2021 season, Jones notched 445 points, good for 10th in program history in a single season.

Also back into the fold for the Saints next year is returning starter Steven Balbuena, Adrian Luna, Gavin Firchau, Connor Jones, Tanner Olson, and Hunter Stevens.

Other awards:

Letterwinners: Noah Anderson, Steven Balbuena, Juan Castaneda, Gavin Firchau, Connor Jones, Hayden Jones, Adrian Luna, Cooper Olson, Tanner Olson, Hunter Stevens, Alex Stresemann, Michael Suarez

Spotlight on Scholarship: Emma Anderson, Noah Anderson, Juan Castaneda, Gavin Firchau, Connor Jones, Hayden Jones, Adrian Luna, Cooper Olson, Tanner Olson, Hunter Stevens, Alex Stresemann, Kahsen Van Wyk, Jack Westman