The towns are located just 12 miles apart. The teams have only become conference rivals in the last couple of years. A couple of players on the opposite rosters are cousins. They even cheer for the same high school wrestling team. Blooming Prairie and Hayfield (Westfield co-op for wrestling) meet on the basketball court Thursday night at 6 pm in Rochester with the winner advancing to the state tournament.

The Vikings went to state as recently as 2013 and were the state runner up back in 2001. That's still much more recent than Blooming Prairie's lone state boys basketball tournament appearance in 1966. However the Awesome Blossoms seem to have a lucky horseshoe in their corner. Most of their players were part of the state football championship in the fall.

That athletic success has continued into this winter. BP is 24-3 with close losses to Waterville-Elysian-Morristown (twice) and Goodhue. The Blossoms have a pair of wins over Hayfield, 65-40 on December 20 and 59-54 on February 7. Hayfield (24-5) is no slouch. Their other losses were to WEM (twice, once in overtime) and Springfield, who is playing for a section championship this week as well.

Thursday's game starts at 6 pm at the Mayo Civic Center Arena in Rochester with coverage on Kat Kountry 105 FM and the Kat Kountry 105 app. Jason Iacovino and Brennen Toquam will have the call.

Blooming Prairie coach Nate Piller says Hayfield has "a lot of strengths. All the teams at this stage are doing some good things. They're excellent shooters. With (Ethan) Slaathaug and (Luke) Dudycha, they have some awesome length." More specifically he says, "Slaathaug really makes them go. He's got great length and is a terrific shooter. He shoots 50-percent from the field and can spot up and shoot or put the ball on the floor and get by you. He's a handful."

Piller says the Vikings are strong defensively too, "It's founded on terrific man-to-man play with good help defenders. They force you to turn the ball over or take poor shots. If you miss, they rebound extremely well. In last season's playoff game, we only had three offensive rebounds, so there just weren't second-chance points."

Blooming Prairie's Karson Vigeland (out with injury) is a cousin of Dudycha and his parents are Hayfield graduates. Piller points out that several Hayfield grads are on the BP faculty. He knows students have many ways to build relationships with students from other schools, especially when they are so close together. "Regardless of that situation, it's going to be highly competitive and someone from the Gopher Conference is going to the state tournament."