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Cichy, Van Dyk lead undefeated Hill-Murray

One of the best girls basketball teams in Minnesota has a strong Wisconsin representation.

Claire Van Dyk of New Richmond, Tessa Cichy of Somerset and Morgan Rustad of Hudson are all key members of the top-ranked Hill-Murray High School girls basketball team in St. Paul. Another Hudson resident, eighth grader Olivia Graskewicz, is working her way onto the Hill-Murray varsity team.

Hill-Murray is the top seed in its sectional tournament bracket. The Pioneers will play in the sectional championship game this Thursday at 7 p.m. against South St. Paul, with the game being played at Washington High School. The winner of Thursday's game will advance to the Minnesota State High School Girls Basketball Tournament, with an opening game on March 16.

The Pioneers are the number one ranked 3A team in Minnesota. They are 27-0 this season and 49-1 in their past 50 games. That is in large part due to the trio of St. Croix County girls, who all start for the team. Cichy has been the starting point guard for the Pioneers since her eighth grade season. Van Dyk starts as a wing and Rustad plays forward.

Cichy is one of the hottest girls basketball players in Minnesota. She and Pioneers center Bethany Doolittle have been an unstoppable tandem this season. Doolittle, a 6-4 senior who is just as successful in the classroom, has already accepted a full-ride basketball scholarship to the University of Iowa.

Cichy was the Minnesota 3A Player of the Year last year and she's a leading contender for that honor again this year.

"She's as good as anyone we have in Minnesota," Hill-Murray coach Erin Herman said of Cichy. "She's our spiritual leader. She has a refuse-to-lose attitude."

Cichy's averaging 19 points per game this season. She's already set season records for points and assists for the Pioneers. She's expected to go over 2,000 points in her career early next year.

Her dad, Steve, said Tessa is being pursued by many of the top basketball programs in the nation. He said her preference is to play in the Big Ten or the Big East, but would like to stay in the midwest if possible. Her academics add to her value to recruiters. She's currently third in her class, with a grade point average above 4.0.

"In the last six months she's received over 1,200 letters from 150 schools," he said.

The most difficult career decision for Tessa, according to her father, was to play basketball or hockey. She was a key part of two girls youth hockey team state championships in the New Richmond youth hockey program.

Cichy and Van Dyk also play volleyball. While Van Dyk is a top quality basketball player, her future is in volleyball.

Like Cichy, Van Dyk is a gifted student. Her volleyball skills and academics have led her to get serious recruiting attention from several Ivy League schools.

Van Dyk has been playing on the Pioneer volleyball varsity team since her freshman year and has been an all-conference player each of the past two years. She led the conference in kills last fall.

Off the court Van Dyk has been busy too. She's earned a Gold Service Award for her community involvement. She volunteers at The Deerfield and she's a Junior Leader in the Springbrook 4-H Club. She's a member of the Wisconsin Junior Holstein Association and she's shown dairy cattle at the district, state and national level.

Coach Herman said Van Dyk and Rustad are the blue collar members of the starting lineup.

"They do the things that don't show up in the scoring column that you need to be a winning team," Herman said.

Herman said Van Dyk has an excellent jump shot, but is more comfortable making strong drives to the basket.

Rustad is the team's defensive stopper, according to her coach.

"Morgan gets the toughest defensive assignments," Herman said. "She's very strong in terms of being a vocal senior leader."

While Cichy, Van Dyk and Rustad are keys to the current Pioneer team, Graskewicz is a big part of the team's future plans. Graskewicz plays point guard for the Pioneers.

"She has a tremendous future," Herman said. "That's where we'll keep our Wisconsin connection going. She's a very impressive young lady."

Last year Hill-Murray reached the state 3A basketball championship game, only to suffer its only defeat of the season. Herman said the team hasn't discussed last season often.

"It's the underlying motivation," Herman said. "I think their heads are in the right place. They get what it'll take to get to that last game and hopefully win it this time."

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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