John Dornfeld likes what he sees in his return as head coach of the Raider boys basketball team.
"It's been fun for me," the 26-year school district guidance counselor said after the first week of the season. "I feel good about the group of guys we have and I'm excited about the direction that we're going."
Dornfeld served as head coach of the Raiders from 1991-94 before stepping aside to spend more time with his young family. He returned to the program from 2002-2012 to serve as an assistant coach, first alongside Tim Scharfenberg and then with Jason Swavely, who played for Dornfeld when he was a student at Hudson. Now the pair have come full circle as Swavely is the lead assistant on Dornfeld's staff.
Dornfeld said he knows of three players coming up at the high school whose fathers played for him in the early 90s.
"It's fun for me to see that," he said.
So far the Raiders are off to a 2-1 start in Dornfeld's return, posting a come-from-behind 78-68 victory over Chippewa Falls in the season opener Tuesday, Nov. 28, dropping a 95-94 thriller to Hastings in the first game of the Red Wing Tournament Friday, Dec. 1 and beating the host Wingers 6-60 Saturday, Dec. 2.
"The things I'm coming away with as I'm getting to know this team are, we're not a big team, most of the guys are 5-11 to 6-2, so sometimes we're going to be at a size disadvantage," he noted. "But it's a skilled group. They're athletic and quick and unselfish. It's a good group to work with."
That skill and athleticism emerged in the second half of the Raiders season opener against Chippewa Falls last Tuesday. Hudson trailed 17-7 early before pulling to within one, 23-22, with six minutes remaining in the first half, only to find themselves down 40-30 at the break. The Raiders went on to outscore the Cardinals 48-28 in the second half to earn the win.
"We knew it was going to be a tight game going in," Dornfeld said. "They have some size and strong perimeter players and we struggled in the first half but were able to get things going in the second half."
Keyser Helterbrand led all scorers with 24 points and Paul Sparstad had 15 while Jacob Daulton scored 13 and Landon Bilse had 11.
Friday in Red Wing, Hudson trailed by as many as 14 points in a fast-paced game that saw Hastings hit a three-pointer with 12 seconds left to take a 95-94 lead.
"We were able to get the ball in and got a good look at the basket just before the buzzer but it rimmed out," Dornfeld said. "It was a fun game to be a part of."
Helterbrand led the Raiders with 28 points and Bilse had 19 while Daulton finished with 15 and Sparstad and Peyton Reece contributed 13 each.
Reece and Helterbrand scored 17 points each Saturday against Red Wing and Sparstad had 12 while Bilse chipped in 10.
"Coming in less than 12 hours later on a quiet Saturday afternoon in the gym, the energy level was low," Dornfeld noted. "But as the game proceeded the kids really competed . The majority of the game there was not more than a four or five point separation but we finished well and made the most of our opportunities.
Dornfeld also praised the defensive effort of senior Riley Brown off the bench.
"They had a guard who we had a hard time stopping but Riley came in and did a great job against him," he said.
The Raiders visited River Falls this past Tuesday, Dec. 5, and will host Eau Claire North Friday, Dec. 8, at 7:15 p.m.