IRON, Minn. (BVM) – One of the best stories to come out of Minnesota high school basketball this year was the rise of the Cherry High School boys basketball team. The Tigers went 0-22 in 2019. This season, they not only went 27-6, but made it to the state tournament for just the second time in program history and first time in 25 years.
“We knew we were going to be a good team coming in,” Cherry head coach Jordan Christianson said. “We played a lot of basketball over the summer… Expectations were high for our team.”
However, those expectations were set by the Tigers and not held by others. When the preseason rankings were released, Cherry was ranked 45th in the state for Class A and fifth in its section.
“Internally we looked at that, kind of laughed about it like, ‘We’re better than that and we’re going to show people we’re better than that,’” Christianson said.
It didn’t take long for the Tigers to do just that. In their first game of the season, they beat Deer River, the preseason No. 1-ranked team in the state, 74-64. That win set the tone for the rest of the season. They would have a lot more work to do, but that win showed the boys that the work they had put in during the offseason had set them up for success.
“After that win I think the guys knew that the sky was the limit and our expectations went up,” Christianson said.
The early validation along with the confidence they already had in themselves propelled the Tigers to a 22-4 regular season record. Cherry entered the section tournament as the No. 1 seed and in a rematch against Deer River, won its first section championship in 25 years.
Cherry then beat Nevis in the state quarterfinals before losing to Hayfield in the semifinals. The team would end up taking fourth at the state tournament. In just three years, the Tigers had become a team that can make annual trips to the state tournament.
Of course the team’s success is in part due to the talent that the Tigers have, in particular sophomore guard Isaac Asuma who is quickly becoming one of the best players in the state of Minnesota for the Class of 2024. However, Christianson credits the team’s love for one another as the main catalyst for what the Tigers were able to do this year.
“I’ve been around basketball my whole life, been on a lot of teams, coached a lot of teams and this is by far the closest team that I have ever had,” Christianson said. “These guys truly love each other.”
It is a cliché in sports but the Tigers truly were a family. The team was always together both on and off the court. The love they had for one another motivated them to make sure everyone was able to succeed.
“They wanted to play hard for one another,” Christianson said. “They wanted to win for one another and they wanted each other to experience all these great things they got to experience.”
This special team started with seniors like Zack Carpenter and Nick and Sam Serna. Guys that had been on the 0-22 as freshman but had seen the potential that was in the program. They were the glue that held the Tigers together.
“They’re huge culture guys… What they have done, they’re the culture starters,” Christianson said.
What the seniors have built has led to the program’s turnaround and the season they were able to have this year was a fitting end to their high school careers. And what they started shows no signs of slowing down.
The success the Tigers have had this season is already setting them up for consistent success in the future. Cherry High School is a K-12 school and the players have become celebrities to the elementary school kids at Cherry.
Since their run to the tournament, kids have come up to Christianson to tell him they want to do what this Tigers team has done. The kids go up to each player they see in the cafeteria or hallways to congratulate them or tell them that they saw them play on TV last night.
That excitement sets up Cherry for long-term success but in the present, the team has the majority of the roster returning for next season, including Asuma as well his brother, Noah, and cousin, Isaiah.
“If we’re fortunate enough to get back there (state) we’ll be ready to roll,” Christianson said. “I’m just excited for the chemistry to keep building… the sky’s the limit for these guys.”