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Tolsma's double-doubles have Eagles soaring

Matt Bunke/Republic Mitchell Christian's Jesse Tolsma drives to the basket during a game Thursday against Kimball.

Mitchell Christian junior Jesse Tolsma is the only remaining starter for the Eagles' basketball team who saw major court time each of the past two seasons.

Tolsma was on the court when the Eagles lost in the Class B title game two seasons ago, and was on the court when the team lost a heart-breaker to Scotland in the 5B regional title game last year.

With an inexperienced team this year and the lack of high-preseason rankings, Tolsma and the Eagles have flown under the radar with a 2-0 record to start the season, both in convincing fashion.

The 6-foot-2 forward helped Mitchell Christian open the season Dec. 15 with a 57-41 win over Mount Vernon. He recorded a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Then, against Kimball three days later, Tolsma put together another double-double performance, scoring 32-points and hauling in 12-rebounds, propelling the Eagles to a 67-42 win.

"I tried to help the team relax at halftime after we came out a little slow in the first half," Tolsma said. "It was a good performance, probably my best in my high school career."

For his performances in Mitchell Christian's first two wins of the season, Tolsma has been named The Daily Republic Player of the Week, as voted on by the newspaper's sports staff.

Mitchell Christian head coach Tom Young said he knows the expectations aren't as high this season as the past two, but he wants his team to improve each game, and Tolsma will be a key factor in helping the rest of the inexperienced players become more comfortable on the court.

"He's a vital part for us," Young said. "Jesse needs to shoot well. He's got a good combination of inside-outside game. If teams double team him, he's good at passing out of that. So that definitely helps."

Tolsma said being the underdog this year -- compared to being the favorite the past two seasons -- has been a bit of a change. He said defeating Mount Vernon to open the season was very pleasing, especially with the inexperience the team has.

Two other major contributors to the Eagles lineup this year have been forward Cody Thomsen and Matt Nielson, both returning letter winners, but neither saw much playing time last season.

Young said because of Tolsma's unselfishness on the court, Thomsen and Nielson have been able to feed off of him.

"When teams double team him down low, it creates opportunities for others, and it's done that early in the season," Young said. "The other kids look up to him because he's had so much floor time. They look toward him for leadership qualities."

Tolsma echoed Young when asked about the team's goals this year. He said he wanted the team to improve each night and to be playing its best come tournament time.

"We're going to try to make a run if we can," Tolsma said. "I have a lot of talent around me. I just try to play my role. That's the goal of the whole team -- to play the roles we're given."