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In The Wake Of Tragedy, Redhawks Stick Together
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/24/2018 11:34:03 PM

Minnehaha Academy repeated as the Class 2A boys basketball state champion Saturday at Target Center, defeating Caledonia 73-60 in the title game. The Redhawks had a record of 26-5 last season and 28-4 this time around, but what happened in between those two sets of numbers was horrible, remarkable, and changed everything.

On the second day of August, Minnehaha Academy was rocked by a natural-gas explosion. Receptionist Ruth Berg, 47, and custodian John Carlson, 82, were killed and nine people were injured in the explosion on the schools’ upper campus in Minneapolis (the upper campus serves grades 9-12 and the lower campus, a mile and a half away, serves pre-kindergarten through eighth grade).

The buildings that were destroyed included the gymnasium. That left the school’s basketball teams without a home for the entire season. The Redhawks boys were the most well-traveled team in the Twin Cities, for games and practices.

They played “home” games at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, Trinity School at River Ridge in Eagan and Mounds Park Academy in St. Paul. One of their practice sites was the gymnasium at Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve Station (connected to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport), where all the players and coaches had to go through a full military security clearance. There were bus rides and car pools to practices and games, often at odd hours. They had T-shirts made that read “No Gym. No Problem.”

“We had to sit around after school for about three hours (before practice),” Redhawks sophomore guard Jalen Suggs said after Saturday’s game. “We would group up and a lot of us would do homework. We’ve spent a lot more time together than we did last year, and you could tell, just by the way we played on the court. Everyone’s had each other’s backs since day one and it’s led to this moment.”

The explosion put basketball into perspective for everyone. Life is precious and basketball is a game.

“This is just basketball,” Suggs said. “There were people in the building that exploded who went through far, far worse than we did, just having late practices.”

Senior JaVonni Bickham said, “It’s bigger than just basketball, it’s bigger than all of us. We knew that and we just came out with everything we got for this season. We’re thankful that we got the chance to win the state championship for our community.”

Hustle-Smile-Ruthless Is 1A Champ

When I gave the team from Russell-Tyler-Ruthton the nickname Hustle-Smile-Ruthless in the previous installment of John’s Journal, some witty folks from those little towns ran with it. There were three signs in the stands during the Class 1A championship game -- reading “Hustle” “Smile” and “Ruthless” – and they were held up as the R-T-R fans chanted those three words several times.

The Knights defeated North Woods 59-55 to capture their third title in six state appearances. North Woods has been to state twice – last year and this year – and has finished second both times.

After the game, someone texted me a photo of the R-T-R team posing with the three signs. I love small towns.

Unseeded Delano Wins 3A Championship

On Feb. 8, the Delano basketball team had a record of 10-9. They ended the season with a record of 21-11 and owners of the Class 3A state championship. The Tigers defeated Columbia Heights 64-61 Saturday night to win their first title in three trips to state, the last one in 2013.

Their 11 defeats ties the tournament record for the most losses by a state champion. Austin Pacelli won the 1992 Class 1A title with 11 losses.

Cretin-Derham Hall Is 4A Champion

In a game that can only be described as an instant classic, the basketball season closed with Cretin-Derham Hall claiming a 79-78 victory over Apple Valley in the 4A title game. Both teams shot better than 56 percent, with Apple Valley’s Tre Jones scoring a game-high 35 points in his final high school game.

It was Cretin-Derham Hall’s third state title and first since 1993, when current coach Jerry Kline Jr. was a team member.

Tournament Tidbits

--At halftime of the Class 1A championship game, eight individuals were honored with awards by the MSHSL for their decades of service and commitment to officiating. Those honored with distinguished service awards were Becker’s Tracy Bertram, Jack Coombe of Tower, Tom Goetz from Bloomington, Bill Hafner of Maplewood, Roseville’s Roy Tutt, Jim Weinzierl from Park Rapids, Pat Whalen of New Brighton and Clark Worthington of St. Louis Park.

--At halftime of the Class 3A game, Bill Bentson of KFIL Radio in Preston and John Sherman of Sun Newspapers in the Twin Cities were honored as recipients of the 2018 MSHSL Outstanding Media Service Awards.

Wells Fargo All-Tournament Teams

Class 1A:
Travis Visser, Hinckley-Finlayson; Noah DeLapaz, Cass Lake-Bena; Garrett Tjernagel, Baden Noennig, Mayer Lutheran; Westin Kirk, Garrett Kern, Carter Hansen, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton; Cade Goggleye, Trevor Morrison, Tate Olson, North Woods.

Class 2A: Quinn Fischer, Esko; Lu’cye Patterson, Brooklyn Center; Mitchell Plombon, Michael Schaefer, St. Cloud Cathedral; Martin Morem, Owen King, Noah King, Caledonia; Jalen Suggs, Terry Lockett, JaVonni Bickham, Minnehaha Academy.

Class 3A: Sam Vascellaro, St. Thomas Academy; Duoth Gach, Austin; Tyrell Terry, Gabe Kalscheur, DeLaSalle; Calvin Wishart, Derek Techam, Keegan O’Neill, Delano; Wendell Matthews, Quentin Hardrict, Deundra Roberson, Columbia Heights.

Class 4A: Zach Theisen, Osseo; Connor Christensen, Eden Prairie; Tyler Wall, Tommy Jensen, Lakeville North; Jacob Prince, Ryan Larson, Sy Chatman, Cretin-Derham Hall; Tre Jones, Luke Martens, Zach Korba, Apple Valley.

Boys State Basketball Tournament

Class 1A

Fifth-place game: Hinckley-Finlayson 56, Rushford-Peterson 49
Third-place game: Mayer Lutheran 67, Cass Lake-Bena 51
Championship game: Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 59, North Woods 55

Class 2A
Fifth-place game: Esko 57, Breckenridge 46
Third-place game: St. Cloud Cathedral 75, Brooklyn Center 70
Championship game: Minnehaha Academy 73, Caledonia 60

Class 3A
Fifth-place game: St. Thomas Academy 68, Mankato East 62
Third-place game: DeLaSalle 82, Austin 61
Championship game: Delano 64, Columbia Heights 61

Class 4A
Fifth-place game: Osseo 64, Forest Lake 61
Third-place game: Lakeville North 63, Eden Prairie 52
Championship game: Cretin-Derham Hall 79, Apple Valley 78

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Hustle-Smile-Ruthless Makes An Impression In Class 1A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/23/2018 10:06:35 PM

A number of basketball fans, me included, looked at the teams warming up before Friday afternoon’s Class 1A boys state semifinals at Target Center and made a statement that was worded along these lines: “Oh geez I don’t know if R-T-R can stay with those tall guys from Mayer Lutheran.”

R-T-R is Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, but you can also refer to them as Hustle-Smile-Ruthless. The Knights, champions of Section 3 in southwest Minnesota, indeed hustle, they smile when you least expect it and they play ruthless defense. They proved it by defeating Mayer Lutheran 49-38 during a tactical game in which both teams made fewer than 30 percent of their shots.

Mayer Lutheran is the top seed in Class 1A with a record of 28-3 before Friday. Hustle-Smile-Ruthless is the No. 4 seed and will take a record of 32-1 into Saturday’s 11 a.m. championship game against No. 2 seed North Woods (31-1).

The Knights outrebounded the taller Crusaders 52-33, which is a mark of how little height meant in the game. And R-T-R played hardnosed defense from one end of the court to the other, disrupting Mayer Lutheran’s ability to work the ball inside. The Crusaders averaged almost 70 points this season, so seeing them score barely half that was quite something.

“R-T-R is a great team, a lot of credit to them,” Crusaders coach Patrick Buchanan said. “They did a lot of things to stagnate our offense, slow us down from what we like to do.”

Mayer Lutheran’s Baden Noennig, a 6-foot-6 junior, said “They played with so much hustle, so much heart.” And Garrett Tjernagel, a 6-foot-7 senior, added, “It seemed like they were always in the right spot. Wrong spot for us, right spot for them.”

That was the plan for the boys from Hustle-Smile-Ruthless. They knew if they could keep the basketball away from the big fellas and play scrap-iron defense everywhere, they had a chance.

“Defensively, you can’t change what got you here,” said R-T-R coach Ted Kern. “We’re a pressure team. We rebounded extremely well, and we’re not big but we work hard. We’re not always the most talented team on the floor, but given the chance we’ll work even with you or outwork you.”

They also might out-smile you. There was some minor confusion among the officials at one point in the first half. While two officials met with the table crew, official M.J. Wagenson held the ball at the spot where it would soon be inbounded and clarified to a few players from both teams what was being discussed.

Russell-Tyler-Ruthton’s Carter Hansen, a 6-foot, zero-inch junior, said with a smile, “Thanks for explaining it to us.”

In the postgame news conference, Kern and Hansen sat at a raised table in front of the gathered media. There was a pause before the first question was posed, which Carter filled by waving, grinning and saying, “Hey guys!”

Hustle-Smile-Ruthless is the smallest school in the tournament with an enrollment of 130 in grades nine through 12. There must be some manner of mathematical equation afoot: Small school x small players = big success and big fun.

--North Woods, last year’s Class 1A runner-up, has won its first two games at state by margins of 38 and 20 points; including Friday's 67-47 win over Cass Lake-Bena. Cass Lake-Bena had played a double-overtime game against Rushford-Peterson in Thursday’s quarterfinals. Panthers coach John Wind said that lengthy game affected his players’ stamina against North Woods.

“We didn’t play very well. … I think yesterday’s game probably took more out of our legs than we thought.”

Class 2A: Minnehaha Academy and Caledonia Advance

Defending state champion Minnehaha Academy will play for a repeat title after the Redhawks defeated St. Cloud Cathedral 77-51 in Friday night’s Class 2A semifinals. Minnehaha is at state for the sixth time, winning the championship in 2013 as well as last year.

Their opponent in Saturday’s 5 p.m. championship game will be Caledonia, which defeated Brooklyn Center 73-67. Caledonia is playing at state for the fourth time in five years and trying to win its second state title. The Warriors were 2A champs in 1997 and finished second in 2015.

Tournament Tidbits

--Mementos and memories are a wonderful part of high school activities, including state tournaments. Someone on Twitter posted to my attention a great piece of history Friday from the 1988 boys state basketball tournament.

Jerry Chiabotti was the coach of the Bigfork High School team that went to state that year; Jerry is now an assistant coach at North Woods. Posted was a sheet of paper, with instructions for the team during the tournament (pictured here as sent to me from a player on that team).

It started with “6:30 a.m. Pack at school” and included details such as “Free Time” and “Lights Out – Bed Check.”

Listed under “PERSONAL” on the packing list: “Shirt, tie, dress pants … Toiletries … Extra jocks and game socks.”

--Here’s a salute and a big thank you to KDHL Radio, the Mighty 920 in Faribault, for 70 years of broadcasting the boys state basketball tournament. Since the station first went on the air in 1948, listeners have heard games involving teams from all over the state on KDHL and its sister stations.

The list of sports directors over 70 years is legendary: Tom Bachrach, Jim Lundquist, Tom Hartman, Tom Albrecht, Steve Skogen, Mike Morrissey and current sports director Gordy Kosfeld. The late Mike Morrissey called state tourney games for 44 years until retiring in 2013, Gordy has been working the tournament for 30 years and Roy Koenigsberg is in his sixth year.

Boys State Basketball Tournament

Class 1A

Friday’s semifinals at Target Center
Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 49, Mayer Lutheran 38
North Woods 67, Cass Lake-Bena 47

Saturday’s championship game
11 a.m.: Russell-Tyler-Ruthton vs. North Woods

Class 2A

Friday’s semifinals at Target Center
Minnehaha Academy 77, St. Cloud Cathedral 51
Brooklyn Center vs. Caledonia

Saturday’s championship game
1 p.m.: Minnehaha Academy vs. Caledonia

Class 3A

Saturday’s championship game
5 p.m. at Target Center
Columbia Heights vs. Delano

Class 4A

Saturday’s championship game
8 p.m. at Target Center
Cretin-Derham Hall vs. Apple Valley

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

From Way Up North, North Woods Is Back At State
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/22/2018 8:33:43 PM

One of my winter excursions took me way up north for a boys basketball game at North Woods school, which is a few miles northwest of Cook in the sprawling wilderness of St. Louis County. The Grizzlies were one of the stars of the state tournament last year, qualifying for the big show for the first time and advancing to the Class 1A state championship game before falling short against Minneapolis North.

North Woods is no short hike from the Twin Cities; it’s much closer to the Canadian border (73 miles) than downtown Minneapolis (232 miles). The Grizzlies defeated International Falls on the night I spent in their spectacular, brightly-lit gym. One of the issues all season was keeping their fans calm, fans who were absolutely sure that the team – with four starters back – would return to state.

“The expectations are so high, it’s unbelievable,” coach Will Kleppe (pictured) told me that night. “It’s been kind of surprising, all the talk of getting back to where we were.”

Current junior Cade Goggleye became a star one year ago when he made a half-court shot at the buzzer to beat Central Minnesota Christian in the quarterfinals at Williams Arena. When I spoke with Cade on that bitter February night in the North Woods gym, he said the players felt like they were underdogs, just as they had during the 2016-17 season.

“We don’t feel pressure because we think we’re still the underdog, because we’re from up north,” he said after the win over International Falls. “We’ve just got to get down there and play hard again.”

Down here they are, defeating Heritage Christian 74-36 Thursday in the 1A quarterfinals at Williams Arena. The Grizzlies will face Cass Lake-Bena in Friday afternoon’s semifinals at Target Center. The Panthers advanced with a 63-61 double-overtime win over Rushford-Peterson.

Goggleye had a game-high 23 points Thursday, making eight of 11 shots (four of six from three-point range) and picking up eight assists. After the game, Kleppe made a reference to Cade’s comments in mid-February.

“I think Cade summed it best up earlier this season,” the coach said. “We still felt like underdogs through this season, knowing when we get down here there are not a lot of representatives from the north. So we still feel like we kind of have that role. Even with the expectations; we haven’t played a game this year without people saying, ‘You’re going back to state.’ That’s never a guarantee and I believe the boys believed firmly that there was a lot of work to be done to get a chance to come back here.”

--Cass Lake-Bena’s quarterfinal victory came after Rushford-Peterson forced the first and second overtimes on last-second shots. Payton Hahn hit a three-pointer as regulation ended and Ben Ansell scored on a rebound as the horn sounded to end the first overtime.

--There are no unbeaten teams in the tournament, and three teams with just one loss; all three are in Class 1A, which will make for some interesting semifinal games. Top-seeded Mayer Lutheran (28-3) will meet fourth-seeded Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (31-1) and second-seeded North Woods (30-1) will face No. 3 seed Cass Lake-Bena (30-1).

Fashion, Part II

Following up on yesterday’s story about well-dressed Hermantown coach Andy Fenske, let’s talk about shoes. Specifically, the shoes worn by Mayer Lutheran coach Patrick Buchanan.

They are black and red, which also happen to be Crusaders school colors. Buchanan, in his first year coaching at Mayer Lutheran, last wore the shoes at his wedding. Yes, his wedding. On that day four and a half years ago when he married Staci, he also wore a black suit with a red vest and red tie.

After the Crusaders defeated Springfield in last week’s Section 2 championship game, Buchanan pulled the shoes out of a bag and told the players he was going to wear them at state.

“They think they’re cool. They like them,” he said. “They had asked me right away, ‘Coach what’s your favorite color?’ and I said you may not believe this but it is red. So this was my proof in the pudding, my red and black shoes.

“Four and a half years ago I got these bad boys, and I wore them on the happiest day of my life. And right now, this is a joy for me to be with these young men.”

Tournament Tidbits

--Streaks are made to be broken, and DeLaSalle’s run of six consecutive Class 3A state championship came to an end Thursday when the Islanders lost to Columbia Heights 71-69 in the semifinals at Target Center. At state a year ago, DeLaSalle defeated the Highlanders 86-60 in the semifinals. And during Tri-Metro Conference play this season, the Islanders beat Columbia Heights by 36 and 15 points. The Highlanders will meet Delano in Saturday’s 5 p.m. championship game.

--Delano is the surprise team of the tournament, coming in unseeded with an 18-11 record and knocking off third seed Mankato East 79-64 in the quarterfinals and No. 2 seed Austin 80-68 in Thursday’s semifinals.

--Quote of the day: Heritage Christian Academy came to state with a record of 13-17 before losing to North Woods. Afterwards, Heritage coach Tim Herman said, “The last Cinderella has died. So go get ‘em North Woods.”

--There was news on the girls basketball front Thursday when Minnehaha Academy head coach Josh Thurow stepped down after 14 years. He coached 11 teams to state tournaments, including the 2010 2A state champs and the 2011 runner-up team. Minnehaha Academy alum Matt Pryor, who has been the head coach at Concordia Academy for last four years, is the new Redhawks coach.

Boys State Basketball Tournament

Class 1A

Mayer Lutheran 71, Mahnomen/Waubun 40
Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 87, Hinckley-Finlayson 70
North Woods 74, Heritage Christian 36
Cass Lake-Bena 63, Rushford-Peterson 61 (2 OT)

Friday’s semifinals at Target Center
Noon: Mayer Lutheran vs. Russell-Tyler-Ruthton
2 p.m.: North Woods vs. Cass Lake-Bena

Class 2A
Minnehaha Academy 65, Jordan 45
St. Cloud Cathedral 64, Esko 60 (3OT)
Brooklyn Center 63, Breckenridge 48
Caledonia 80, Minnewaska 41

Friday’s semifinals at Target Center
6 p.m.: Minnehaha Academy vs. St. Cloud Cathedral
8 p.m.: Brooklyn Center vs. Caledonia

Class 3A
Columbia Heights 75, St. Thomas Academy 62
Austin 64, Sauk Rapids-Rice 55
Delano 79, Mankato East 64

Columbia Heights 71, DeLaSalle 71-69
Delano 80, Austin 68

Saturday’s championship game
5 p.m. at Target Center
Columbia Heights vs. Delano

Class 4A
Cretin-Derham Hall 70, Wayzata 48
Eden Prairie 65, Osseo 38
Apple Valley 67, Forest Lake 60
Lakeville North 89, Maple Grove 71

Cretin-Derham Hall 60, Eden Prairie 56
Apple Valley 58, Lakeville North 45

Saturday’s championship game
8 p.m. at Target Center
Cretin-Derham Hall vs. Apple Valley

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Hermantown Hawks Coach Dresses For Success
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/21/2018 8:28:25 PM

When I walked into Williams Arena on Wednesday morning for a day of boys state basketball tournament games, one of the first people I saw was Hermantown head coach Andy Fenske.

Three years ago, Fenske was the coach of the girls basketball team from Princeton High School when the Tigers made the school’s first trip to that state tournament. Princeton was a one-and-done team that year, falling to Marshall (Fenske’s alma mater) in the Class 3A quarterfinals.

Andy was very well-dressed during the 2015 tournament. In fact, I Tweeted a photo of him during that game against Marshall, when he wore a sharp three-piece suit and striped tie. When we met Wednesday morning, it was clear that he still knew how to dress well. He was in a dark three-piece suit, including a bow tie and a pocket square (pictured). During the Hawks’ game with DeLaSalle, I Tweeted photographic evidence with these words: “Hermantown coach Andy Fenske takes a commanding early lead in Best-Dressed Coach in the State Tournament contest.”

Of course, being dressed well doesn’t necessarily translate to coming out ahead on the court, and top-seeded DeLaSalle advanced to the semifinals with a 90-63 win over the Hawks. The postgame news conference focused on things that matter.

“We obviously don’t have a team of that caliber up in the northland,” Fenske said. “There’s a reason DeLaSalle is a six-time defending champ. They’re always geared up, ready to go. And our boys came out hot out of the gate. We came out like we wanted to. We weren’t able to withstand their runs and everything else that they threw at us.”

The coach talked about an up-and-down season that brought the Hawks to state, for the second time in history, with a record of 14-15. And he said he hoped that getting to state would provide inspiration.

“I’m proud of these boys,” he said. “They came out and battled, they competed, they did everything they could. Hopefully it’s a good experience for our younger boys, that we’ve got to get back. This is the level where we’ve got to be. If we want to be competing with the best, we have to be ready to play at this level.”

Fenske is a coaching rarity, having brought both girls and boys teams to state. And he knows how fortunate he is.

“There are coaches greater than I who will never have the opportunity to be here once, let alone twice,” he said. “It’s no different (from girls to boys), though. You get on the big stage and the kids are in awe a little bit. … it’s always a special moment. There’s never a dull time to be able to to be coaching this late. I guess the biggest difference, thinking back on it, is we have a consolation bracket this time around so we get to have least one more game.”

That’s true. The Hawks will meet St. Thomas Academy in Thursday’s consolation bracket at Concordia University in St. Paul, with the winner playing for fifth place on Friday.

The final question of the news conference concerned Andy’s attire. What was the motivation for the formal look?

“That goes back to 2015 when I got a nice Tweet from Mr. Millea commenting on my apparel,” he said with a smile. “So I had to step it up a little bit more for this one. As a coaching staff we always dress to impress. If the college coaches dress up for all the big games, why shouldn’t we? While this isn’t quite the end of the road yet, we wanted to make sure if we were going to go down, we were going to go down swinging, and go down in style, too.”

Tournament Tidbits

--With one exception, higher-seeded teams came out on top in Wednesday’s Class 3A and 4A state quarterfinal games. In 3A, No. 1 seed DeLaSalle topped Hermantown, No. 2 seed Austin beat Sauk Rapids-Rice 64-55, unseeded Delano beat No. 3 seed Mankato East 79-64 and No. 4 seed Columbia Heights beat No. 5 seed St. Thomas Academy 75-62.

In 4A, top seed Cretin-Derham Hall beat Wayzata 70-48, No. 2 seed Apple Valley beat Forest Lake 67-60, No. 3 seed Lakeville North beat Maple Grove 89-71 and No. 4 seed Eden Prairie beat Osso 65-38.

--DeLaSalle, six-time defending champion in 3A, and Columbia Heights will meet in Thursday’s semifinals at Target Center. Both teams are in the Tri-Metro Conference, and DeLaSalle won their two regular-season meetings by scores of 94-58 and 82-67.

“I’ve nicknamed them The Machine because they continue to reload,” Columbia Heights coach Willie Braziel said of the Islanders. “They are a very disciplined basketball team, they play defense a lot like us. And they have some very intelligent basketball players. For us, we have to raise to their level of play. … DeLaSalle is a very, very good basketball team and an outstanding program. The rest of us strive to be that.”

--During last week’s girls state basketball tournament, I wrote about an official named Josh Lamppa who worked a game at Target Center, marking his fifth time at a state tournament. He’s the guy who played at the boys state basketball tournament for Bigfork in 1994 and coached the Nashwauk-Keewatin boys basketball team at the state tournament in 2004, giving him the player/coach/official trifecta.

Josh is one three dedicated officials named Lamppa who live on the Iron Range. His brother Davis also worked a game at the girls state tournament, and their cousin Kyle was on the court at Williams Arena for a boys game on Wednesday.

--Kudos to the fans from Sauk Rapids-Rice, especially the students, for exhibiting superior sportsmanship during the Storm’s game with Austin on Wednesday. As I posted on Twitter: “The student section from Sauk Rapids-Rice is absolutely sensational. Everybody standing the whole game, cheering loudly for their team, everything is positive and fun. How it should be done. Great job Storm.”

Boys State Basketball Tournament

Class 1A

Thursday’s quarterfinals at Williams Arena
11 a.m.: Mahnomen/Waubun vs. #1 Mayer Lutheran
1 p.m.: #5 Hinckley-Finlayson vs. #4 Russell-Tyler-Ruthton
3 p.m.: Heritage Christian vs. #2 North Woods
5 p.m.: Rushford-Peterson vs. #3 Cass Lake-Bena

Class 2A
Wednesday’s quarterfinals at Target Center
Minnehaha Academy 65, Jordan 45
St. Cloud Cathedral 64, Esko 60 (3OT)
Wednesday’s quarterfinals at Williams Arena
Brooklyn Center 63, Breckenridge 48
Caledonia 80, Minnewaska 41

Friday’s semifinals at Target Center
6 p.m.: Minnehaha Academy vs. St. Cloud Cathedral
8 p.m.: Brooklyn Center vs. Caledonia

Class 3A
Wednesday’s quarterfinals at Williams Arena
DeLaSalle 90, Hermantown 63
Columbia Heights 75, St. Thomas Academy 62
Austin 64, Sauk Rapids-Rice 55
Delano 79, Mankato East 64

Thursday’s semifinals at Target Center
Noon: DeLaSalle vs. Columbia Heights
2 p.m.: Austin vs. Delano

Class 4A
Wednesday at Target Center
Cretin-Derham Hall 70, Wayzata 48
Eden Prairie 65, Osseo 38
Apple Valley 67, Forest Lake 60
Lakeville North 89, Maple Grove 71

Thursday’s semifinals at Target Center
6 p.m.: Cretin-Derham Hall vs. Eden Prairie
8 p.m.: Apple Valley vs. Lakeville North

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

The Team? The Experience? It’s Everything
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/17/2018 11:44:28 PM

This weekend was remarkable for several reasons, most of them – but not all of them -- having to do with high school girls basketball in Minnesota. Let’s start, however, with what took place Friday evening far away in Charlotte, North Carolina.

That’s where the University of Virginia, a top seed in the NCAA men’s tournament, lost by 20 points to No. 16 seed Maryland-Baltimore County, becoming the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed in the tournament. Virginia coach Tony Bennett said all the right things afterwards…

“I told the guys, this is life. It can’t define you. You enjoyed the good times and you gotta be able to take the bad times. When you step into the arena, the consequences can be historic losses, tough losses, great wins, and you have to deal with it. That’s the job.”

Now, let’s delve into what took place Saturday at Target Center, where the MSHSL girls basketball state championship games were held. One possible headline could read like this: “Three Teams Win First State Titles.” Indeed, Lyle-Pacelli in Class 1A, Sauk Centre in 2A and Cooper in 3A took home first-place hardware for the first time. In Class 4A, Eastview added to its previous championship collection.

The games are televised and everyone sees what happens on the court in the big NBA arena. Behind the scenes are quieter moments, and they can be heartbreaking as well as inspiring. Such as …

--In a corridor, members of the Roseau band quietly saying, “You guys were great” and “We’re so proud of you” as athletes, exiting the court after coming up short in the championship game, sob, their shoulders heaving.

--A few hours later, players from Northfield applauding for their band members as they cross paths backstage after the Raiders lost to Cooper.

And then there are moments that make you smile in appreciation for kids who understand that being part of a team is a special thing, and when that experience comes to an end – whether in victory or defeat – it can hit them hard.

Madi Heiderscheidt, a senior from Sleepy Eye, and Abigail Bollinberg, a junior from Lyle-Pacelli, exemplified that sense of loss following Lyle-Pacelli’s 57-33 victory over Sleepy Eye in the 1A title game.

Both girls wiped tears from their eyes as they talked about the season, and the team, and the journey, coming to an end.

Madi, who will play basketball at the College of Saint Benedict, said, “I’m not as upset about second place as I am that my career is over.”

Lyle-Pacelli coach Justin Morris (who lives in Omaha, as noted previously in John’s Journal) coached his final game with the Athletics Saturday, and that added to Abigail’s feelings, despite the gold medal hanging around her neck.

“I’m kind of sad,” she said as the tears flowed. “I won’t get to play with these seniors again. I won’t get to play for our coach again.”

Kristi Fett, Lyle-Pacelli’s 6-foot-5 center who has signed with Minnesota State Mankato, had 30 points and 16 rebounds against Sleepy Eye. After three games in three days facing defenders who tried to outmuscle her under the basket, Kristi said, “We always talk about bumps and bruises being temporary but memories like these last a lifetime. You’ll remember the faces when you look around the team circle for the rest of your life.”

Following the Class 3A game, senior Annika Hoff of Northfield (who will play in the Ivy League at Cornell) was asked about the experience of wearing the Raiders uniform. She began to speak, saying “It’s been awesome,” and then broke down in tears.

The team? The experience? It’s everything. That’s the job.

Familiar Foes, New Final Result In Class 2A

Sauk Centre and Roseau have faced off at state for three years in a row now; in 2016 Roseau beat the Mainstreeters 94-82 in the third-place game and last season the Rams beat Sauk Centre 75-64 in the championship game. This time, the Mainstreeters came out on top 63-52.

Sauk Centre, making its eighth trip to state, ended a string of second-place finishes from 2012, 2015 and 2017.

Cooper Makes History In Class 3A

The Cooper Hawks capped their state tournament debut in grand style, defeating Northfield 49-37 for the school’s first team state title since 1985, when the softball team won the Class 2A championship.

Northfield also was seeking its first title in its third trip to state. The Raiders received flowers earlier in the week from the 1979 team, which also was a state runner-up. The Raiders’ most recent state appearance came in 2010.

In Class 4A, Eastview Stays Unbeaten

Eastview closed its season with a 32-0 record, joining Sauk Centre (33-0) as the state’s only undefeated teams. The Lightning, who won their first state title in 2014, defeated Hopkins 68-63 in the championship game. Hopkins, which has won six titles and finished second three times since 2004, was led by sophomore Paige Bueckers with a tournament-high 37 points.

Wells Fargo All-Tournament Teams

Class 1A

Kora Kritzberger, Ada-Borup/Norman County West; Mary Burke, Mountain Iron-Buhl; Lydia Sussner, Abby Hennen, Minneota; Madi Heiderscheidt, Sarah Ibarra, Brianna Polesky, Sleepy Eye; Olivia Christianson, Kristi Fett, Brooke Walter, Lyle-Pacelli.

Class 2A Kaylee Kirk, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton; Jaclyn Jarnot, Maranatha Christian; Bren Fox, Abby Mackenthun, Norwood-Young America; Katie Borowicz, Kacie Borowicz, Victoria Johnson, Roseau; Kelsey Peschel, Tori Peschel, Maesyn Thiesen, Sauk Centre.

Class 3A Destinee Oberg, Holy Angels; Cayle Hovland, Willmar; Heaven Hamling, Hannah DeMars, Grand Rapids; Annika Hoff, Grace Touchette, Rachel Kelly, Northfield; Aja Wheeler, Kierra Wheeler, Andrea Tribble, Cooper.

Class 4A Frannie Hottinger, Cretin-Derham Hall; Jayda Johnston, Roseville; Lauren Jensen, Ke James, Lakeville North; Paige Bueckers, Dlayla Chakolis, Raena Suggs, Hopkins; Megan Walstad, Mariah Alipate, Andrea Abrams, Eastview.

Girls State Basketball Tournament

Class 1A

Fifth place: Ada-Borup/Norman County West 63, Heritage Christian 47
Third place: Minneota 74, Mountain Iron-Buhl 56
Championship: Lyle-Pacelli 57, Sleepy Eye 33

Class 2A
Fifth place: Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 64, Byron 32
Third place: Norwood-Young America 64, Maranatha Christian 54
Championship: Sauk Centre 63, Roseau 52

Class 3A
Fifth place: Holy Angels 56, Alexandria 46
Third place: Grand Rapids 51, Willmar 42
Championship: Cooper 49, Northfield 37

Class 4A
Fifth place: Cretin-Derham Hall 64, Maple Grove 57
Third place: Lakeville North 51, Roseville 46
Championship: Eastview 68, Hopkins 63

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Newcomers To The State Championship Game
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/16/2018 11:10:09 PM

History will be made in Saturday’s Class 1A girls basketball state championship game at Target Center, as anyone who follows Sleepy Eye and Lyle-Pacelli can attest. Neither team has ever won a state title in girls basketball, and neither team has ever played in a championship game.

They combine for only three previous trips to state; Lyle-Pacelli in 2015 and Sleepy Eye in 2012 and 2016. Both teams advanced Friday with victories over schools that own long histories at the tournament.

Lyle-Pacelli defeated Minneota 53-42 in Friday’s semifinals. Minneota is playing at state for the seventh time since 2005, winning the title in 2013 and finishing second in 2014. And Sleepy Eye has gotten past Ada-Borup/Norman County West and Mountain Iron-Buhl, two of the giants in small-school girls basketball.

Ada-Borup won championships in 2008, 2009 and 2015 while finishing second in 2013. Mountain-Iron Buhl has placed second twice in seven trips to state since 2011.

And here’s a final fact to remember: Lyle-Pacelli is the No. 1 seed in the eight-team field and Sleepy Eye is not seeded at all.

Sleepy Eye senior Madi Heiderscheidt, who had a game-high 24 points Friday, said her team has relished the underdog role.

“Yeah, it’s great. I don’t think we’ve gotten the recognition we necessarily should the entire season. And it’s great to show everybody how hard we work and how good of a basketball team we can be. Being seniors, this is our last chance so we’re trying to keep our season alive as long as we can and it’s great to come out on this big stage.”

The big stage didn’t bother either of the winning 1A teams in the semifinals. Neither team had ever played a state tournament game at Target Center; all of their previous games at state had been played at Williams Arena or Mariucci Arena.

Senior experience has something to do with playing well in a big venue. Lyle-Pacelli has three seniors and Sleepy Eye has eight.

“You can tell that they have seniors. They’re senior-laden, they’re good kids,” Mountain Iron-Buhl coach Jeff Buffetta said of Sleepy Eye. “Give them credit, they put in the time. They’ve earned their moment.”

Sleepy Eye coach Ryan Hulke said his team used a lack of recognition, such as in statewide rankings, as motivation.

“We were sitting there at 17, 18 all year, just giggling, (saying) ‘Whatever … we’ll beat them when it comes to it. Just give us a chance.’ ”

--After Lyle-Pacelli defeated Minneota on Friday, Athletics coach Justin Morris grew emotional for a moment in the postgame press conference. Saturday’s state championship game will be his final day as Lyle-Pacelli’s coach – he lives in Omaha, as noted in the previous edition of John’s Journal, and has been a commuter coach all season – and returned this year to finish what began when the current seniors were in seventh grade.

“The closeness and the family atmosphere we have,” Morris said. “We’re just so close.”

After all the questions had been asked and answered, Morris shook hands with every member of the media and thanked them for the work they do.

--Hulke said he and Morris have developed a good relationship. “We’ve really gotten to know each other these last two years. We text weekly, and these last two weeks it’s been daily and all day. It’s going to be a ton of fun going against them.”

Rematch Set In Class 2A

While new teams will vie for the Class 1A title, familiar foes will decide the Class 2A state championship Saturday when Roseau and Sauk Centre meet. Roseau defeated Maranatha Christian 78-66 Friday night and Sauk Centre beat Norwood-Young America 54-45.

Roseau is playing at state for the fourth year in a row. Last year’s title was the Rams’ first, and they defeated Sauk Centre 75-64 in the 2017 championship game

The Mainstreeters will try to cap off their eighth trip to state with their first championship. They were the runner-up in 2012, 2015 and a year ago.

“We’re very, very excited, ready to go and play the game,” said Sauk Centre senior Maesyn Thiesen.

The Busiest Official In Minnesota

Among one of the three-person officiating crews working at Target Center on Friday was Josh Lamppa, a man who has achieved a real rarity. Josh played at the boys state basketball tournament for Bigfork in 1994, coached the Nashwauk-Keewatin boys basketball team at the state tournament in 2004 and has now been an official at state in five different years.

Josh also is a football official who has worked in the state playoffs four times, including the 2016 Prep Bowl, and also is a registered volleyball official. When he’s not officiating, he’s the activities director at Virginia High School.

Tournament Tidbits

--After Minneota lost to Lyle-Pacelli on Friday, the Vikings turned their thoughts to Saturday’s Class 1A third-place game with Mountain Iron-Buhl at Concordia University in St. Paul. But it would be hard to forgive their fans for already looking ahead to next season.

The high school basketball careers of seniors Laura Knutson, Carolyn Hoffman and Hidie Moorse will end Saturday, but all the Vikings who played in the state semifinals were non-seniors. The Minneota starters were three juniors, a sophomore and a freshman, with an eighth-grader and a ninth-grader coming off the bench.

“We’re obviously pretty young,” Minneota coach Chad Johnston said. “We still have an opportunity to finish the season on a win, and that’s something we can build on coming into next year.”

Girls State Basketball Tournament

Friday’s Semifinals
At Target Center

Class 1A

Lyle-Pacelli 53, Minneota 41
Sleepy Eye 63, Mountain Iron-Buhl 48

Class 2A
Sauk Centre 54, Norwood-Young America 45
Roseau 78, Maranatha Christian 66

Saturday’s Championship Games
At Target Center

Class 1A

Noon: Lyle-Pacelli vs. Sleepy Eye

Class 2A
2 p.m.: Sauk Centre vs. Roseau

Class 3A
6 p.m.: Cooper vs. Northfield

Class 4A
8 p.m.: Eastview vs. Hopkins

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

For Lyle-Pacelli, The Road To State Began In Nebraska
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/15/2018 8:19:21 PM

Justin Morris has added up the miles he has driven during this basketball season. The grand total is right around 23,000 miles on the road between his home in Omaha, Nebraska, and the team he coaches in southern Minnesota.

Morris has been the head coach at Lyle-Pacelli since 2012 and this will be his final season with the team, which is a cooperative effort between Lyle High School and Pacelli Catholic in Austin. When he took over, there was a group of young girls who have helped raise the profile of the Class 1A program. The Athletics made their first trip to state when the current seniors were freshmen and they returned this year, which was the hope all season long.

I wrote about Morris and the Athletics on Dec. 13, the day after they played a game in Randolph without their coach. Morris missed two other games during the season, but he will miss no more as the team closes the season at state. The top-seeded Athletics defeated Heritage Christian 59-43 in Thursday’s quarterfinals at Williams Arena and will meet Minneota on Friday at Target Center in the semifinals. (In this photo, Morris has his arms raised as the Athletics celebrate Thursday's win.)

The coach’s reason for moving from Austin to Omaha last summer sprang from an encounter after the 2015 state tournament. At a welcome home rally for the team, Morris was interviewed by a reporter from KAAL TV in Rochester. Her name is Megan Stewart; they ended up dating, are now engaged and they will be married in her hometown of Lakeville this summer. After Megan took a job at KMTV in Omaha early last year, Justin followed; he works as a senior vice president of a banking company.

In the postgame press conference Thursday, Justin opened by saying, “Last time I was here, I met my future wife. True story.”

Morris wanted to finish the story this season with the team’s three seniors: Brooke Walter, Kristi Fett and Kendal Truckenmiller. Fett, a 6-foot-5 center who has signed with Minnesota State Mankato, had a game-high 25 points and 18 rebounds Thursday.

Playing without their coach at some practices and games meant the athletes had to take more responsibility, Kristi said.

“It made us step up more. It brought us extremely close as a team because we knew that we had the responsibility, the whole team together. Most people probably think, ‘How can that work? You’re how far away and you’re the head coach?’ ”

Oh it worked.

Walter, whose father Brad is an assistant coach, said, “We’re a family here and we know what we have to do. We know when we come out and play we have to play our best every single game. We know what Justin would say, what he would do. Trust has been our big word.”

Tournament Tidbits

--Lyle-Pacelli’s Fett will be a tall order for Minneota in the semifinals, a fact acknowledged by Vikings coach Chad Johnston after his team defeated Menahga 74-69 in the quarterfinals. Minneota’s tallest player is 5-10 junior Lydia Sussner, who had 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists Thursday.

“That’s always challenging,” Johnston said of defending against a player like Fett. “Stopping her is one thing; they will just throw it up to her. Lydia will obviously give up some height. We have to figure that one out. One philosophy is to let her get her points and try to take others out of the game, but they’re very capable of hitting those shots. We’ll have to decide which route we’ll take, and we’ll sit down tonight and figure out what we’re going to do.”

--Menahga made a strong impression in the Braves’ first trip to the state tournament. Minneota was making its seventh state appearance, having won state titles in 2013 and 2014, but Menahga stayed with the Vikings to the end. Second-year Braves coach Cody Pulju said he knew playing at Williams Arena for the first time would be a challenge.

“There’s not one thing you can do to prepare them for this, and that was the result in the first half (Minneota led 41-30 at halftime). I think the environment got to us offensively in the first half, which was what we expected.”

Nevertheless, the Braves gave Minneota all they wanted in front of a great big boisterous crowd from Menahga that saw their team lose for the first time in 31 games this season. The only undefeated teams remaining are Sauk Centre (31-0) in Class 2A and Eastview (31-0) in Class 4A.

--To kick off the Class 1A quarterfinals, Heritage Christian band director Matthew Kinne stood in front of the orchestra, waved an arm to get the kids started on the national anthem, then with trumpet in hand he hopped up to the back row, joined the brass section and played along.

--Best sign in the stands: “Mya is on Fiya” in honor of Sleepy Eye senior Mya Ibberson.

--Personal note: Thursday marked my eighth anniversary doing this work for the MSHSL. It’s the best job in the world. Thanks to you all for reading these words, for putting up with my Twitter hijinks, and for saying hi when our paths cross. You are awesome.

Girls State Basketball Tournament
Thursday’s Games

Class 1A Quarterfinals

At Williams Arena
Lyle-Pacelli 59, Heritage Christian 43
Minneota 74, Menahga 69
Mountain Iron-Buhl 59, Stephen-Argyle Central 47
Sleepy Eye 53, Ada-Borup/Norman County West 51

Semifinals at Target Center

Class 3A

Cooper 65, Willmar 54
Northfield 64, Grand Rapids 54

Class 4A
Eastview 57, Lakeville North 47
Hopkins 61, Roseville 34

Friday’s Semifinals
At Target Center

Class 1A

Noon: Lyle-Pacelli vs. Minneota
2 p.m.: Mountain Iron-Buhl vs. Sleepy Eye

Class 2A
6 p.m.: Sauk Centre vs. Norwood-Young America
8 p.m.: Maranatha Christian vs. Roseau

Saturday’s Championship Games
At Target Center

Class 1A

Noon: Lyle-Pacelli or Minneota vs. Mountain Iron-Buhl vs. Sleepy Eye

Class 2A
2 p.m.: Sauk Centre or Norwood-Young America vs. Maranatha Christian or Roseau

Class 3A
6 p.m.: Cooper vs. Northfield

Class 4A
8 p.m.: Eastview vs. Hopkins

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Willmar Players Honor Coach With ‘Terrible’ T-Shirts
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/14/2018 7:04:41 PM

When the Willmar High School girls basketball team gathered for a sendoff from school before they journeyed to the Twin Cities and this week’s state tournament, they posed for a photo wearing their favorite t-shirts.

Everyone had a big smile, even the coach whose face was plastered on the shirts. But the face of Cardinals coach Dustin Carlson is not from a recent photo, oh no. It’s one of his Willmar High School graduation photos from 2004, and – as with most people who look back at such photos from their younger days -- it’s a hoot.

The teenage Carlson is shown in a nearly shaved head, arms crossed in front, with the words “STRAIGHT CASH HOMIE” printed above the photo on the black t-shirts.

“They picked the worst one of the five they could find, and that was on purpose,” he said with a grin after the Cardinals rallied to defeat DeLaSalle 52-47 in overtime in Wednesday’s Class 3A quarterfinals at Williams Arena. “They scanned through them and said, ‘That one’s decent, that’s one decent, oh that one’s terrible, let’s put that on a shirt.’ ”

Senior Cayle Hovland, who scored a game-high 15 points Wednesday, came up with the idea for the shirts. When the team had dinner at the home of Carlson’s mother early in the season, she found a treasure trove of old photos of their coach.

“I was like, ‘We’ve got to get the worst one,’ ” Cayle said. “And I have a friend who works at a t-shirt company and she said, ‘Oh, yeah, I got you. We’ll make them.’ We made them.”

On the court, Carlson was very well-dressed Wednesday in a red sport coat, white shirt, striped tie, gray slacks, gray shoes. The jacket came off for the second half; DeLaSalle led by 15 at intermission before the Cardinals outscored them 28-13 to tie the score 42-42 at the end of regulation.

The Cardinals shot only 23.5 percent in the first half but 52.4 in the second. The Islanders’ percentage went the other way: 33.3 in the first half and only 12.5 in the second.

The line “Straight Cash Homie” was made famous by the Vikings’ Randy Moss when discussing how he paid fines to the NFL. Carlson said he likes to borrow the phrase when the players make shots in practice, or when he does.

The shirts were unveiled to the coach before a game early in the season.

“We were standing out there right before warmups and the girls weren’t coming out on the floor. I was thinking, ‘What is going on? Why is it taking so long?’ All of a sudden they all come out in these black shirts and my head snapped back, ‘What the heck is that on there?’ And then I saw my face.”

Willmar will meet Cooper in the state semifinals Thursday at noon at Target Center. There's no word on whether the t-shirts will make an appearance.

Tournament Tidbits

Cooper is playing at state for the first time in school history, but the Hawks coach is very familiar with the tournament as well as Williams Arena. Kiara Buford (pictured), in her fourth year as Cooper’s coach, played in four state tournaments at St. Paul Central and was on championship teams as a junior and senior in 2007 and 2008. After that she played at the University of Minnesota, where she was a two-year team captain and MVP.

The top-seeded Hawks defeated Alexandria 58-51 Wednesday in the 3A tournament at Williams Arena. Buford’s sister Jada led all scorers with 20 points.

“It’s always different when your shoes don’t look like their shoes,” Kiara Buford said of the difference between playing and coaching. “When you’re a player you’re anxious to play and you feel a responsibility to win and you feel like you have control. As a coach you don’t expect to feel the same way as the players do. The difference is you can’t play. I try to communicate with them as best as possible and hope I’ve prepared them throughout the season.”

--Alexandria coach Wendy Kohler, a Hall of Famer in her 33rd year, is old-school when trying to get her players' attention: She puts two fingers in her mouth and whistles.

--The smallest enrollment among the schools competing in the girls state basketball tournament is Stephen-Argyle Central with 81 students in grades nine through 12. The largest is Prior Lake with 2,466.

Girls State Basketball Tournament

Class 1A

Thursday at Williams Arena
11 a.m.: Heritage Christian vs. Lyle-Pacelli
1 p.m.: Menahga vs. Minneota
3 p.m.: Stephen-Argyle Central vs. Mountain Iron-Buhl
5 p.m.: Sleepy Eye vs. Ada-Borup/NCW

Class 2A
Wednesday at Target Center
Sauk Centre 67, Byron 61
Norwood-Young America 67, Minnehaha Academy 58
Wednesday at Williams Arena
Maranatha Christian 85, Mesabi East 49
Roseau 62, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 56

Class 3A
Wednesday at Williams Arena
Robbinsdale Cooper 58, Alexandria 51
Willmar 52, DeLaSalle 47 (OT)
Northfield 49, Mankato West 44
Grand Rapids 75, Holy Angels 60

Class 4A
Wednesday at Target Center
Eastview 78, Prior Lake 44
Lakeville North 68, Maple Grove 66 (OT)
Hopkins 74, Forest Lake 38
Roseville 56, Cretin-Derham Hall 48

Thursday’s Semifinals
At Target Center

Class 3A

Noon: Cooper vs. Willmar
2 p.m.: Northfield vs. Grand Rapids

Class 4A
6 p.m.: Eastview vs. Lakeville North
8 p.m.: Hopkins vs. Roseville

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

The Voice Is Gone, But The Memories Will Last Forever
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/10/2018 9:51:30 PM

Orono High School boys hockey coach Will Scholz felt bad and sounded worse. His voice had been on a downward glidepath from the start of the state tournament on Wednesday, and it was little more than a rasp by Saturday afternoon.

“Sorry guys, this is just awful,” he said to reporters assembled for the Spartans’ postgame news conference after the Class 1A state championship game at Xcel Energy Center. But he was smiling, and that message was loud and clear.

Orono defeated Alexandria 2-1 in a game between two teams seeking their first state titles, and the Spartans were delirious.

Orono senior Thomas Walker, who scored his team’s first goal, talked about imagining such things while skating on the pond in his backyard.

“This was a little better than that,” he said. “You dream about this forever.”

Orono played at state for the ninth time; their previous trip was in 2014. They won 16 games in each of the last two seasons before coming to state this week with a 20-7-1 mark and finishing with three more wins. This kind of accomplishment usually has implications that extend far beyond one team and one season. (Pictured are Landon Wittenberg, Thomas Walker and coach Will Scholz.)

“It’s amazing. I cannot wait to see how this impacts the program, because I know it’s going to have an impact,” said Walker. “I think this really shows the community that we’re a force to be reckoned with. When you put your mind to something and you work hard, you can compete with the big boys.”

Landon Wittenberg, who scored the winning goal (his first of the tournament) in the third period, summed it up nicely.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “There are all these little kids watching and they look up to you. And we were once those little kids. ... it just means a ton to us and the community.”

The two interview sessions after the 1A game started 10 minutes apart, and it’s no surprise that the mood is quite different – and the session shorter – when the losing team comes to the dais. Alexandria coach Ian Resch was accompanied by senior goaltender Jackson Boline and junior Jack Westlund, who scored the Cardinals’ goal Saturday. Players aren’t required to speak to the media, but it says something about Jackson and Jack that they were willing to do so.

The Cardinals brought a record of 17-10-1 to the tournament, with seven of those losses coming in a nine-game stretch between Dec. 12 and Jan 4. That fact makes their run to the state championship game especially remarkable. And when you consider that they were seeded third in Section 6, it’s even more of a feat.

“We were underdogs just to come out of the section. And to be playing in the championship game today, I couldn’t be prouder of this team,” Resch said. “It’s going to take a couple days but the guys will be able to reflect and realize what they accomplished. Right now they’re in the middle of it and it stings, it hurts. But they’ll be talking about this and they’ll remember this for the rest of their lives.”

Boline, who received the Herb Brooks Award after the game, said he never lost faith.

“I believed in our guys. When we were in that stretch, we were still getting to know each other, almost, because some of these guys had never played together. It’s a young team. We just had to come together and that’s what we did. I always believed that we could come here, and we did.”

Westlund was asked about what he did immediately as the game ended; he skated to Boline and embraced him.

“The way he played was the reason we were in that game,” Jack said. “And he had nothing to be ashamed of, he played unbelievable all year. Especially in the playoffs. Without him we wouldn’t have been in this game.”

Boline said, “All these guys on this team are my family. I love them all. It’s just a tough way to go out.”

Minnetonka defeats Duluth East for 2A title

The Minnetonka Skippers made history by capturing their first boys state hockey championship with a 5-2 victory over Duluth East. Minnetonka’s previous best finish at state was runner-up in 2010. Duluth East won state championships in 1960, 1995 and 1998. The Greyhounds have finished second six times.

Minnetonka’s Joe Molenaar, who received the Herb Brooks Award during the postgame awards ceremony, scored one goal and had two assists. Grant Doctor had three assists, giving him nine points in the tournament.

Tournament Tidbits

--Minnesota Wild assistant coach Darby Hendrickson, who played in the 1991 state tournament for Richfield, missed the Wild's game in Edmonton on Saturday night. He had a good reason: He was at Xcel Energy Center to watch his son Mason, who plays for Minnetonka.

--Also on hand at the tournament on Saturday was Maddie Rooney, former goalie on the girls and boys teams at Andover High School who won an Olympic gold medal with Team USA.

--Attendance for the Class 1A championship session was 8,544 and a crowd of 18,914 attended the evening 2A session. Total attendance for the tournament was 107,674.

Boys State Hockey Tournament

Class 1A

Fifth-place game: Thief River Falls 5, Mankato East 1
Third-place game: Hermantown 4, Mahtomedi 0
Championship game: Orono 2, Alexandria 1

Class 2A
Fifth-place game: St. Thomas Academy 6, St. Michael-Albertville 2
Third-place game: Edina 11, Centennial 0
Championship game: Minnetonka 5, Duluth East 2

Wells Fargo All-Tournament Teams

Class 1A:
Blake Biondi, Darian Gotz, Hermantown; Kory Pilarski, Mahtomedi; Nick Corneliusen, Thief River Falls; Daniel Eckerline, Jack Kubitz, Jack Suchy, Thomas Walker, Orono; Caleb Strong, Jack Powell, Jack Westlund, Jackson Boline, Alexandria.

Class 2A: Ben Brinkman, Sammy Walker, Edina; Rob Christy, St. Thomas Academy; Garrett Worth, Ian Mageau, Luke LaMaster, Parker Klieve, Duluth East; Bobby Brink, Charlie Glockner, Grant Docter, Joe Molenaar, Josh Luedtke, Minnetonka.

Herb Brooks Award winners

Class 1A:
Jackson Boline, Alexandria.

Class 2A: Joe Molenaar, Minnetonka.

Girls State Basketball Tournament
Quarterfinal Pairings

Class 1A

Thursday at Williams Arena
11 a.m.: Heritage Christian vs. Lyle-Pacelli
1 p.m.: Menahga vs. Minneota
3 p.m.: Stephen-Argyle Central vs. Mountain Iron-Buhl
5 p.m.: Sleepy Eye vs. Ada-Borup/NCW

Class 2A
Wednesday at Target Center
6 p.m.: Byron vs. Sauk Centre
8 p.m.: Norwood-Young America vs. Minnehaha Academy
Wednesday at Williams Arena
6 p.m.: Mesabi East vs. Maranatha Christian
8 p.m.: Tracy-Milroy-Balaton vs. Roseau

Class 3A
Wednesday at Williams Arena
10 a.m.: Robbinsdale Cooper vs. Alexandria
Noon: DeLaSalle vs. Willmar
2 p.m.: Northfield vs. Mankato West
4 p.m.: Holy Angels vs. Grand Rapids

Class 4A
Wednesday at Target Center
10 a.m.: Prior Lake vs. Eastview
Noon: Maple Grove vs. Lakeville North
2 p.m.: Forest Lake vs. Hopkins
4 p.m.: Roseville vs. Cretin-Derham Hall

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Girls State Basketball Tournament
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/10/2018 2:13:09 PM

Quarterfinal Pairings

Class 1A

Thursday at Williams Arena
11 a.m.: Heritage Christian vs. Lyle-Pacelli
1 p.m.: Menahga vs. Minneota
3 p.m.: Stephen-Argyle Central vs. Mountain Iron-Buhl
5 p.m.: Sleepy Eye vs. Ada-Borup/NCW

Class 2A
Wednesday at Target Center
6 p.m.: Byron vs. Sauk Centre
8 p.m.: Norwood-Young America vs. Minnehaha Academy
Wednesday at Williams Arena
6 p.m.: Mesabi East vs. Maranatha Christian
8 p.m.: Tracy-Milroy-Balaton vs. Roseau

Class 3A
Wednesday at Williams Arena
10 a.m.: Robbinsdale Cooper vs. Alexandria
Noon: DeLaSalle vs. Willmar
2 p.m.: Northfield vs. Mankato West
4 p.m.: Holy Angels vs. Grand Rapids

Class 4A
Wednesday at Target Center
10 a.m.: Prior Lake vs. Eastview
Noon: Maple Grove vs. Lakeville North
2 p.m.: Forest Lake vs. Hopkins
4 p.m.: Roseville vs. Cretin-Derham Hall

You Gotta Have Heart, And Alexandria Has Lots Of It
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/9/2018 10:25:55 PM

In the final minutes of Friday’s big surprise in the Class 1A boys state hockey tournament, Alexandria senior goaltender Jackson Boline was briefly shaken up in a collision in the crease. As he slowly got back on his skates and stretched a bit, the Alexandria student section began chanting “MVP! MVP!” in appreciation for what Boline had accomplished.

He didn’t do it all by himself, certainly, but holding high-powered Hermantown to one goal in the Cardinals’ 6-1 semifinal victory at Xcel Energy Center was jaw-dropping. The Hawks’ previous single-game season low was two goals and they had won their four previous postseason games by a combined score of 23-5.

But the biggest blockbuster was this: Hermantown had played in the previous eight championship games. And this: since losing to East Grand Forks in the 2015 title game, the Hawks had gone 48-0 against Class 1A competition.

Friday’s game, meanwhile, was Alexandria’s first-ever time in the state semifinals. When results like Friday’s happen, the word “heart” is often used, such as, “The guys played with heart.”

For Boline, playing with heart means more. It’s not noticeable from the stands, but he wears a neck guard that extends down to cover his chest. Its specific purpose? Protecting his heart.

Jackson’s dad, Pat – a Cardinals assistant coach -- smiled when asked about Friday’s game and the dream of getting to state and playing for a championship, which the Cardinals will do when they face Orono on Saturday at noon. (They are pictured here.)

“We’re almost speechless right now,” Pat said. “It’s hard to put it together. When you think about winning the section; we’ve been trying to do that for a few years. The boys are just responding and preparing. It’s amazing.”

It is amazing, but not any more amazing than what the Boline family has been through since the first day of November in 2016. Pat collapsed at work that day, was airlifted to a hospital in the Twin Cities and underwent lengthy surgery. It was his heart. Surgeons found three tears in his aorta.

Asked about that day, Jackson said, “To be honest I can’t remember 100 percent of it.”

Pat recovered, but there were worries about other family members possibly having a similar heart condition. Jackson was tested on Feb. 3, 2017 and the results were bleak. He had a dilation in the trunk of his aorta. The doctor who gave them the results told Jackson that he could no longer be involved in contact sports.

Hearts? Sunk.

“That was heartbreaking,” Pat said. “I looked at him and he was white. It breaks your heart.”

They sought other opinions, and a series of cardiologists and a vascular specialist said Jack could indeed play hockey.

“Otherwise, I’d worry,” said Pat.

There were adjustments to make, most of them psychological. Jackson admits that he struggled at points a season ago, when the Cardinals finished 17-8-3 and lost to St. Cloud Cathedral in the Section 6 championship game.

“Last year it got into my mind and it showed,” he said. “This year you just have to forget about it. It’s not something that’s going to happen, nothing bad is going to come out of it.”

The Cardinals are at state for the fifth time in school history and first time since 2011. And they are all smiles.

“Oh my gosh,” said the goaltender who had just heard the MVP chants. “A dream come true is coming to the tournament. This? This is unexplainable.”

His dad put it this way: “We’re very lucky.”

Tournament Tidbits

--Alexandria's Jack Powell scored three goals vs. Hermantown. The last hat trick against the Hawks was by Hopkins' Nate Nelsen on Dec. 5, 2015, in a 3-3 tie.

--Orono built a 4-0 lead over Mahtomedi, saw it vaporize and finally beat the Zephyrs 5-4 in overtime. Thomas Walker had a hat trick as Orono took the 4-0 lead but Mahtomedi scored four times in a span of 5 minutes, 18 seconds to make it 4-4 early in the third period. The game-winner was scored by Dane Korsi at 2:26 of overtime.

--Duluth East defeated Edina 4-2 in the first Class 2A semifinal, with Garrett Worth – who had a hat trick Thursday – scoring twice and getting one assist.

--Minnetonka advanced to Saturday’s 2A title game with a 6-3 win over Centennial in the final game of the day. Josh Luedtke and Bobby Brink each scored two goals for the Skippers.

--Attendance for Friday’s afternoon Class 1A semifinal doubleheader was 11,905, followed by 19,055 for the evening 2A doubleheader. Total tournament attendance through three days is 80,216.

Boys State Hockey Tournament
At Xcel Energy Center

Friday’s semifinals
Class 1A

Orono 5, Mahtomedi 4 (OT)
Alexandria 6, Hermantown 1

Class 2A
Duluth East 4, Edina 2
Minnetonka 6, Centennial 3

Saturday’s championship games
Class 1A

Noon: Orono vs. Alexandria

Class 2A
7 p.m.: Duluth East vs. Minnetonka

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Skippers Assistant Made History With The Wild
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/8/2018 10:39:41 PM

The players on the Minnetonka High School boys hockey team probably don’t know too many details about the background of assistant coach Steve Aronson. He is a 1996 Minnetonka grad and has been on the coaching staff for 11 years.

Aronson played hockey at the University of St. Thomas, where he was a first-team All-American three times, an academic All-American, the 2000 NCAA Division III player of the year and the all-time leading scorer in the history of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

He played professional hockey for three years and never reached the NHL, but his bio includes this fact: Aronson was the first player ever signed by the Minnesota Wild.

“It comes up every now and again,” Aronson, 39, said Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center, where top-seeded Minnetonka defeated Hill-Murray 6-2 in the Class 2A state semifinals.

On May 5, 2000, Wild general manager Doug Risebrough announced that the expansion team – which would play its first season in 2000-01 – had signed Aronson to a two-year contract.

Risebrough had never seen Aronson play, but heeded the word of Wild scout Glen Sonmor.

“Glen told us that this guy had done an awful lot, and all I wanted to know was what kind of a player was he,” Risebrough told the Minneapolis Star Tribune after signing Aronson. “I kept hearing about his work ethic and character, and about his ability to score goals. When I asked what kinds of goals he scores, I was told he scores all kinds of goals, and a lot of them on the inside. That's all I needed to hear.”

After his playing career, Aronson was an assistant coach at the University of St. Thomas for one season before joining the Skippers staff. He and his wife Katie and their three kids live in Deephaven. He works in sales for a finance company.

In high school, Aronson played in the state hockey tournament once, in 1994. The Skippers lost to Duluth East in the quarterfinals and to Osseo in the consolation bracket. This year, Minnetonka is making its first appearance at state since 2010.

“I’m so happy for our kids, I’m so proud of them,” Aronson said. “To be here together with them is super exciting.

“I missed playing hockey but what I really missed was being around all the people that you know and being in locker rooms, whether it’s professionally, college or high school. It’s fun seeing kids that are so hungry to learn at this age, and they have so much passion. They’re such good kids and it’s so much fun. There’s nothing like it.”

The current players haven’t done much inquiring about their assistant coach’s playing career, and that’s just fine with him.

“What’s really great about kids this age is they live in the moment,” he said. “Their focus is on where they are. I try to limit any of that talk. I’m there to help them.”

Tournament Tidbits

--Duluth East senior Garrett Worth had a hat trick in the Greyhounds’ 5-0 2A quarterfinal victory over St. Michael-Albertville on Thursday. Worth enters Friday’s semifinal matchup against Edina with 45 goals and 23 assists on the season. Duluth East coach Mike Randolph, who has coached for 29 years and owns two state championships, compared Worth to Greyhounds legend Dave Spehar, who recorded three state-tournament hat tricks in the team’s run to the 1995 2A title.

“He’s got great teammates and he finishes a lot of stuff that those teammates create for him,” Randolph said of Worth. “He’s a great scorer, he’ll score at any level. … he has a gift that not all players have. … I put him with David Spehar.”

Worth and teammates Ian Mageau and Ryder Donovan form what’s known as the “WMD line.”

--Quote of the Day: Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner after the Pioneers lost to Minnetonka: “This is a fun deal but the real tournament is Friday night and Saturday night. That’s the wow.”

--As expected, there were big crowds for Thursday’s Class 2A games. Attendance for the first two-game session was 19,040 and the evening session drew 18,590. At the halfway point of the tournament, total attendance was 50,256.

Boys State Hockey Tournament
At Xcel Energy Center

Class 1A quarterfinals

Mahtomedi 4, Mankato East 2
Orono 6, Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato 1
Hermantown 4, Monticello 2
Alexandria 1, Thief River Falls 0

Class 2A quarterfinals
Edina 7, Lakeville North 1
Duluth East 5, St. Michael-Albertville
Minnetonka 6, Hill-Murray 2
Centennial 3, St. Thomas Academy 2

Friday’s semifinals
Class 1A

11 a.m.: Mahtomedi vs. Orono
30 minutes after first game: Hermantown vs. Alexandria

Class 2A
6 p.m.: Edina vs. Duluth East
30 minutes after first game: Minnetonka vs. Centennial

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Despite Injury, State Tourney Is A Blast For Orono Senior
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/7/2018 7:53:19 PM

There is a standard format for player introductions before quarterfinal games at the boys state hockey tournament. The players, helmets off, line up at an end line and skate to the blue line as their names are announced to the crowd at Xcel Energy Center and the KSTC Channel 45 audience. Some smile, some say “Hi Mom” and the process continues until all the players have been identified.

There was a change in the process Wednesday before Orono and Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato squared off in the Class 1A tournament. When stadium announcer Dave Wright got to No. 18 for the Orono Spartans, a TV camera panned to the bench. Will Larson, wearing a suit and tie, helmet and facemask (the latter two are required of students on the bench), smiled as he saw himself on the mammoth scoreboard hanging above center ice. What the fans could not see was a medical boot on Larson’s left leg.

Will (pictured) is a senior center for the Spartans and this has not been a typical season. Playing in a no-contact hockey league last fall, he lost an edge and slid into the boards. The result was a fractured tibia and fibula. He missed the first 13 games and finally made his on-ice debut on Jan. 12, playing in three games before more trouble arose.

“I had a plate put in my leg, and with the rubbing from the plate on my skate the plate broke through my ankle so I had to have surgery,” Will said after the Spartans defeated Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato 6-1. “I got cleared, and the day I got cleared the scar broke open again. I had the plate removed last week.”

You’d think this would be a season to forget for Larson. You would be wrong. He was all smiles Wednesday, on the TV screen before the game and outside the locker room after the game.

“I’m not playing in the tournament right now, but it’s been a blast,” he said.

The most important thing is that he’s with his friends.

“It’s too bad that I can’t play but it really didn’t matter to me, as long as we made it here and I can be with the guys I’ve grown up with,” Will said. “We’re having an absolute blast and we’re just trying to take it all in right now.”

Orono coach Will Scholz is not surprised at all that Larson is smiling rather than sulking. The senior is a team leader who leads even when he’s not in uniform.

“He’s a great kid,” said Scholz, the Spartans’ first-year head coach and previous junior varsity coach who has worked with Will for three years. “He hasn’t missed a practice or a game, unless he had therapy or something. He was one of the main reasons we came back and beat Minneapolis (in the Section 2 semifinals), because he was jumping around on the bench and willing the kids to go.”

Will also plays lacrosse (although he will miss his senior season in that sport because of his injury) and is very involved in Special Olympics Unified Sports, which join people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.

The day he was injured, Larson had planned to give a Unified sports friend a ride to the Homecoming dance that evening. While being taken to the hospital in an ambulance, the first phone call he made was to his friend’s parents, assuring them that he would find someone else to provide transportation and spend time with their son at the dance.

“He’s a great leader, a great student,” Scholz said. “I don’t have kids, but if I had one I’d wish it was him. He’s a joy to coach. His parents are lucky. They got a good one there.”

Tournament Tidbits

--The first goal of the state tournament was scored by the grandson of one of the game’s giants. Mahtomedi’s Joe Paradise scored at 7:39 of the opening period; he and twin brother Tom – juniors on the hockey team – are grandsons of the late Herb Brooks. On Saturday one player from Class 1A and one from 2A will receive the Herb Brooks Award, which goes to players who represent the values, characteristics, and traits that defined Herb Brooks. Joe Paradise scored two goals in the Zephyrs’ 4-2 victory over Mankato East/Loyola.

--Scholz became Orono’s head coach when former NHL player Mark Parrish stepped down after two years to take a broadcast job with the New York Islanders. Parrish was at Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday, but not with the Spartans; he was working as an analyst on the tournament’s TV broadcast.

--The tournament’s first hat trick was scored by Hermantown sophomore Blake Biondi in the Hawks’ 4-2 victory over Monticello. The game was a rematch of last year’s state championship game, won by Hermantown 4-3 in two overtimes.

--Thursday's first-session attendance was 6,590 and the second session drew a crowd of 6,036 for a total of 12,626.

--A limited number of Class 2A tickets are available for Thursday’s quarterfinal sessions at Xcel Energy Center; approximately 360 tickets for the 11 a.m. session and 800 for the 6 p.m. session. Standing-room tickets will be made available if reserved seats are sold out. Tickets will go on sale at the Xcel Enery Center box office one hour prior to the start of each session.

Boys State Hockey Tournament
At Xcel Energy Center

Wednesday’s Class 1A games

Mahtomedi 4, Mankato East 2
Orono 6, Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato 1
Hermantown 4, Monticello 2
Alexandria 1, Thief River Falls 0

Thursday’s Class 2A games
Lakeville North vs. Edina
St. Michael-Albertville vs. Duluth East
Hill-Murray vs. Minnetonka
Centennial vs. St. Thomas Academy

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Final Class 1A Boys Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/7/2018 3:20:52 PM

From Minnesota Basketball News.

Class 1A
1. Springfield (25-1)
2. North Woods (25-1)
3. Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (26-1)
4. Cass Lake-Bena (25-1)
5. Mayer Lutheran (23-3)
6. Westbrook-Walnut-Grove (23-3)
7. Hancock (22-2)
8. BOLD (20-6)
9. Minneota (21-3)
10.Parkers Prairie (22-2)

Final Class 2A Boys Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/7/2018 3:20:28 PM

From Minnesota Basketball News.

Class 2A
1. Minneapolis North (21-5)
2. Minnehaha Academy (22-4)
3. Perham (26-0)
4. Caledonia (22-4)
5. Brooklyn Center (18-8)
6. Lake City (22-3)
7. Melrose (24-2)
8. Eden Valley-Watkins (23-2)
9. Annandale (20-6)
10.Holy Family Catholic (17-9)

Final Class 3A Boys Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/7/2018 3:19:58 PM

From Minnesota Basketball News.

Class 3A
1. DeLaSalle (21-4)
2. Austin (24-2)
3. Mankato East (21-5)
4. Orono (21-5)
5. Waseca (24-3)
6. Marshall (22-4)
7. Columbia Heights (17-6)
8. St. Thomas Academy (18-9)
9. Willmar (24-2)
10.Robbinsdale Cooper (18-6)

Final Class 4A Boys Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/7/2018 3:19:24 PM

From Minnesota Basketball News.

Class 4A
1. Cretin-Derham Hall (24-2)
2. Hopkins (25-1)
3. Apple Valley (22-4)
4. Lakeville North (22-4)
5. East Ridge (21-5)
6. Rochester John Marshall (24-2)
7. Park Center (22-4)
8. Champlin Park (21-5)
9. Eden Prairie (19-7)
10.North St. Paul (22-4)

Boys State Hockey Tournament Pairings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/5/2018 2:57:57 PM

At Xcel Energy Center
Wednesday’s Class 1A games

11 a.m.
Mankato East (16-10-2) vs. #2 seed Mahtomedi (21-6-1)

30 minutes after first game
Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato (16-11-1) vs. #3 seed Orono (20-7-1)

6 p.m.
Monticello (19-7-2) vs. #1 seed Hermantown (20-6-2)

30 minutes after 6 p.m. game
#5 seed Thief River Falls (16-10-2) vs. #4 seed Alexandria (17-10-1)

Thursday’s Class 2A games
11 a.m.
Lakeville North (16-10-2) vs. #2 seed Edina (26-2)

30 minutes after first game
St. Michael-Albertville (23-5) vs. #3 seed Duluth East (23-2-3)

6 p.m.
Hill-Murray (13-11-4) vs. #1 seed Minnetonka (24-2-2)

30 minutes after 6 p.m. game
#5 seed Centennial (19-6-3) vs. #4 seed St. Thomas Academy (25-2-1)

Four On The Floor: Gable Steveson Pins Another State Title
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/3/2018 9:27:54 PM

Gable Steveson is a young man with few surprises. The most dominant Minnesota high school wrestler of his generation, the Apple Valley senior capped a splendid career by winning his fourth Class 3A state championship Saturday night as a packed house at Xcel Energy Center rained down applause on the heavyweight.

Steveson is the 18th wrestler in state history to win at least four titles and the 13th from Apple Valley to win at least three. At the top of the mountain is the Eagles’ Mark Hall, who two years ago became the first Minnesotan to claim six state championships. Destin McCauley won his fifth state crown as an Eagle in 2011, while Steveson joined Apple Valley grads Chad Erickson (1997), Charlie Falck (2004) and Brandon Kingsley (2012) in owning four titles.

The future Minnesota Golden Gopher thundered his way through the tournament with pins in 25 seconds, 22 seconds and 67 seconds before closing his prep career with a 17-second pin of Anoka senior Brandon Frankfurth in the championship match. He followed with a back flip, much to the delight of the fans.

The final victory meant Steveson finished with 171 consecutive victories since his last defeat -- which came when he was an eighth-grader -- against Alexandria’s Justin Cumberbatch in a 2014 state championship match. Steveson’s overall high school record is 210-3.

Several wrestlers claimed their third state championships Saturday. In a Class 3A matchup of past champions, Alex Lloyd of Shakopee won his third title by defeating Tyler Eischens of Anoka 6-4 at 145 pounds. At 126 pounds, Patrick McKee of St. Michael-Albertville won a third title with an injury-default win against Zach Smith of Prior Lake. Another three-time winner was Peyton Robb of Owatonna, who defeated Austin Brenner of St. Cloud Tech 8-2.

In Class 2A, Jake Gliva of Simley became a three-time state champ with an 11-5 win over Lorenzo Diaz of South St. Paul at 132 pounds and Daniel Kirkvliet of Simley also won his third title with a 20-4 decision over Steven Hajas of Delano at 195 pounds.

In Class 1A, the Pipestone duo of Michael Suda and Hunter Burnett each won their third championship. Suda beat Blake Legred of United South Central 13-9 in the finals at 126 and Burnett won 12-6 over Mark Buringa of St. Charles at 132.

Wrestlers winning their second state championships included …

--Class 3A: Reid Ballantyne of Stillwater.

--Class 2A: Tyler Wagener of Waconia and Patrick Kennedy of Kasson-Mantorville.

--Class 1A: Caden Steffen of Zumbrota-Mazeppa.

Total attendance for the state wrestling tournament was 54,528, which was an increase from last year’s total of 52,620. The all-time record for total attendance is 64,001 in 2003.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

From Ethiopia To Pipestone: Michael Suda Wrestles To Win
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/2/2018 2:20:19 PM

Xcel Energy Center has become Michael Suda’s home away from home in the wrestling postseason. The senior from Pipestone High School is seeking his third state championship this weekend, making the 200-mile drive from southwest Minnesota to St. Paul with three teammates who also qualified for state.

That distance is nothing, considering how far Suda has come. As a child in Ethiopia his name was Muluken. He came to America as an 8-yard-old who couldn’t speak English, became Michael, and his journey of more than 7,000 miles, nine time zones and two vastly different worlds is a remarkable story.

His parents -- father Abebe and mother Zewdenesh – wanted a better life for their son and his little sister Hermella. They made a difficult choice and put them up for adoption. A couple in Pipestone, Marcia and Todd Suda, saw a photo of the two kids and the adoption process began. When Michael and Hermella arrived in Minnesota, it wasn’t exactly what they had envisioned.

“I guess when I was in Africa I thought of America as being big cities, big buildings,” Michael said. “I came here and it was kind of a shock; they didn’t have fences around their houses, everything was out in the open. It was a little different.”

He laughs about being so homesick at first that he packed a bag and began walking back to Ethiopia. But as he settled into his new life, especially sports with other kids in the town of 4,000, everything began to change.

Michael has twice qualified for the state cross-country championships, finishing as high as ninth in Class 1A. He’s also a distance runner on the Arrows track and field team. Wrestling, however, became his thing. He went to a youth camp after being in Pipestone for about a year and liked it, but needed to convince his adoptive parents to let him continue.

“I didn’t even really know much English at the time and I was home-schooled,” he said. “They didn’t want me to get bullied or anything, they were a little protective.”

With help from what he called “a lot of people,” including kids and adults, he became a wrestler.

“Back in Africa I used to grapple with friends, just kind of fighting,” he said. “I thought it was cool as a sport, I just enjoyed it.”

He first qualified for the Class 1A state tournament as an eighth-grader and finished fifth at 113 pounds. He lost in the championship round as a ninth-grader and has won two state titles since then at 120 and 126 pounds. He’s in the 126-pound division this weekend, as is another defending state champion, Blake Legred of United South Central, who won at 106 as a junior last year. (Pictured are Pipestone state qualifiers Grant Budden, Garrett Ploeger, Hunter Burnett, Suda and coach Brian Bos.)

Michael defeated Crosby-Ironton’s Nate Williams 17-6 in the opening round of competition Thursday, then beat Cole Rasmussen of Triton 20-10 in the quarterfinals.

Suda’s title-round loss as a freshman provided a sense of purpose.

“He wasn’t very satisfied with that, he expected more out of himself,” said Pipestone coach Brian Bos. “He’s always been highly motivated and driven.”

That defeat not only provided motivation in wrestling, but in Suda’s other sports, as well.

“That lit a fire in me,” he said. “I just worked really hard in all my sports. I think that actually is what drove me in track and cross-country. I came into the next wrestling season, cleaned up my technique, became a smarter wrestler, got stronger. There were a lot of things that went into it. It was the process that made it worthwhile. When I got my hand raised (as a state champion), it was an amazing feeling to better myself and make it happen.”

Suda is joined at this week’s tournament by classmates Hunter Burnett (also a two-time state champ) and Garrett Ploeger (at state for the third time) and sophomore Grant Budden (second time at state).

Suda and Burnett, who is competing at 132 pounds, have worked out with each other for years now, and if all goes well both will conclude their Pipestone careers as three-time state champs. They will continue wrestling together at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“He and Hunter have worked together and been creative, working on techniques,” Bos said. “They kind of feed off each other and keep each other grounded. They know what their job is and they take care of business.”

Burnett also won his first match Thursday with a technical fall over Nolan Rommel of Wabasha-Kellogg and then pinned Shawn Rue of Paynesville in the third period to reach Saturday's semifinals. Ploeger also won twice Friday to reach the semifinals at 170 pounds. He pinned Thomas Battcher of Sibley East and recorded an 11-5 decision over Michael Nelson of Dover-Eyota.

Michael is part of a big family in Pipestone. Along with Michael and Hermella, Marcia and Todd Suba have six other children: David, James, Rachel, Jonathan, Grace and Anna. “It’s pretty crazy,” Michael said, laughing. (The Suda family is pictured from several years ago.)

Michael has not returned to Ethiopia since coming to America, and his biological parents have not been able to travel here to see Michael and Hermella. They talk on the telephone with their family in Africa, but Michael and Hermella – who came to the U.S. unable to speak English – now speak only English so a translator is needed to help them communicate with their family in Africa.

One thing is certain: The boy who came to America as Muluken before becoming Michael considers himself to be very lucky.

“For sure,” he said. “I could be in a totally different place. My family that adopted me, the coaches who took me in, there are a lot of great people in Pipestone, a lot of families that took me in and put me on the right path.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Wrestling Champs: St. Michael-Albertville, Kasson-Mantorville, Zumbrota-Mazeppa
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/1/2018 9:28:11 PM

This much we knew going into the 2018 state team wrestling tournament: A new champion would be crowned in Class 3A. That’s because Apple Valley, which has dominated big-school wrestling for longer than any current high schoolers have been alive, was not among the competitors.

Shakopee came to state at Xcel Energy Center as the 3A Section 2 championship, having ended Apple Valley’s run of 35 consecutive team appearances at state and 12 straight championships (the Eagles were co-champs with St. Michael-Albertville in 2013). Apple Valley owns 25 championships in 36 state tournament appearances since 1980.

The Sabers came in as the No. 1 seed in Class 3A, but it was the third-seeded Knights of St. Michael-Albertville who came away with the championship trophy. The Knights defeated Shakopee 30-25 in the finals to take home their eighth title since 1996.

St. Michael-Albertville won Class 2A gold in 1996, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and tied Apple Valley for the 3A crown in 2013. The Knights, making their 28th state appearance since 1975, have been state runners-up 10 times.

Shakopee was making only its fourth appearance in the team state tournament and first since 2004. The Sabers’ best previous finish was state runner-up in 1983.

In the other two classes, repeat champions was the theme.

In Class 2A, Kasson-Mantorville defeated first-time state entrant Fairmont/Martin County West 49-9, going back-to-back after winning the title last year. The KoMets now own four state team championships since 2013.

In Class 1A, Zumbrota-Mazeppa defeated Frazee defeated 31-19 to win its second team title in as many years, as well as its second championship all-time.

Individual competition in all three classes will begin Friday. The tournament will culminate with individual championship matches Saturday evening, capping a six-session tournament over three days.

Class 1A

Frazee 41, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City 10
Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Browerville 43, Blackduck/Cass Lake-Bena 13
Zumbrota-Mazeppa 37, Ottertail Central 19
Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove 63, Kenyon-Wanamingo 7
Frazee 38, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Browerville 20
Zumbrota-Mazeppa 35, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove 18
Third place
Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove 38, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Browerville 18
Fifth place
Ottertail Central 39, Blackduck/Cass Lake-Bena 23
Zumbrota-Mazeppa 31, Frazee 19

Class 2A

Scott West 56, Grand Rapids 7
Fairmont/Martin County West 45, South St. Paul 16
Kasson-Mantorville 54, Totino-Grace 13
Perham 31, Foley 25
Fairmont/Martin County West 30, Scott West 28
Kasson-Mantorville 48, Perham 10
Third place
Scott West 33, Perham 30
Fifth place
Foley 44, South St. Paul 26
Kasson-Mantorville 49, Fairmont/Martin County West 9

Class 3A

Anoka 35, Hastings 22
St. Michael-Albertville 46, Stillwater 20
Shakopee 62, Minnetonka 9
Willmar 50, Albert Lea 18
St. Michael-Albertville 31, Anoka 29
Shakopee 32, Willmar 30
Third place
Anoka 30, Willmar 22
Fifth place
Albert Lea 40, Hastings 25
St. Michael-Albertville 30, Shakopee 25

State Championship Team Wrestling Matches Are Set
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/1/2018 3:21:53 PM

The opening session of the 2018 state wrestling tournament has been completed at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and the championship matchups have been set. Title matches are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Here are the results from the quarterfinals and semifinals, along with the title matchups…

Class 1A

Frazee 41, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City 10
Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Browerville 43, Blackduck/Cass Lake-Bena 13
Zumbrota-Mazeppa 37, Ottertail Central 19
Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove 63, Kenyon-Wanamingo 7
Frazee 38, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Browerville 20
Zumbrota-Mazeppa 35, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove 18
Zumbrota-Mazeppa Frazee

Class 2A

Scott West 56, Grand Rapids 7
Fairmont/Martin County West 45, South St. Paul 16
Kasson-Mantorville 54, Totino-Grace 13
Perham 31, Foley 25
Fairmont/Martin County West 30, Scott West 28
Kasson-Mantorville 48, Perham 10
Kasson-Mantorville Fairmont/Martin County West

Class 3A

Anoka 35, Hastings 22
St. Michael-Albertville 46, Stillwater 20
Shakopee 62, Minnetonka 9
Willmar 50, Albert Lea 18
St. Michael-Albertville 31, Anoka 29
Shakopee 32, Willmar 30
Shakopee St. Michael-Albertville

Class 1A Boys Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/1/2018 3:16:07 PM

From Minnesota Basketball News.

1. Springfield 25-1
2. North Woods 24-1
3. Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 26-1
4. Cass Lake-Bena 25-1
5. Mayer Lutheran 23-3
6. Hinckley-Finlayson 22-3
7. Westbrook-Walnut-Grove 23-3
8. Minneota 21-3
9. Hancock 23-2
10. BOLD 20-6
11. Norman County East/Ulen-Hitterdal 22-2
12. Parkers Prairie 21-2
13. Wrenshall 22-2
14. Spring Grove 21-5
15. Nevis 20-5
16. Sacred Heart 22-4
17. Ada-Borup 20-4
18. Dawson-Boyd 19-6
19. New Ulm Cathedral 21-5
20. Cedar Mountain-Comfrey 17-8

Class 2A Boys Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/1/2018 3:15:43 PM

From Minnesota Basketball News.

1. Minneapolis North 20-5
2. Minnehaha Academy 21-4
3. Perham 25-0
4. Caledonia 22-4
5. Brooklyn Center 17-8
6. Holy Family Catholic 17-8
7. Lake City 22-3
8. Melrose 24-2
9. Breck 15-8
10. Eden Valley-Watkins 22-2
11. St. Charles 22-4
12. Annandale 19-6
13. Esko 21-4
14. St. Cloud Cathedral 19-5
15. Virginia 21-4
16. Byron 21-6
17. Maple Lake 20-5
18. Jordan 21-5
19. New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva 23-2
20. Kimball 21-4

Class 3A Boys Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/1/2018 3:15:17 PM

From Minnesota Basketball News.

1. DeLaSalle 20-4
2. Austin 24-1
3. Mankato East 20-5
4. Orono 20-5
5. Waseca 23-3
6. Marshall 22-4
7. Columbia Heights 17-5
8. St. Thomas Academy 16-9
9. Willmar 23-2
10. Mahtomedi 18-7
11. Northfield 17-8 .
12. Fergus Falls 19-6
13. Sauk Rapids-Rice 18-7
14. Fridley 14-9
15. Totino-Grace 13-12
16. Minneapolis Roosevelt 16-9
17. St. Paul Johnson 20-4
18. Monticello 17-9
19. Robbinsdale Cooper 17-6
20. Hibbing 19-6

Class 4A Boys Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/1/2018 3:14:49 PM

From Minnesota Basketball News.

1. Cretin-Derham Hall 23-1
2. Hopkins 24-1
3. Apple Valley 21-4
4. Lakeville North 21-4
5. East Ridge 20-5
6. Rochester John Marshall 23-2
7. Park Center 21-4
8. Champlin Park 20-5
9. North St. Paul 21-4
10. Tartan 21-4
11. Osseo 19-6
12. Wayzata 15-10
13. Maple Grove 18-7
14. Eden Prairie 18-7
15. Prior Lake 20-5
16. Edina 16-9
17. Owatonna 19-6
18. Chaska 19-6
19. Blaine 16-9
20. Woodbury 14-11

Final Class 1A Girls Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/1/2018 3:14:04 PM

From Minnesota Basketball News (regular-season records).

1. Lyle-Pacelli 25-1
2. Mountain Iron-Buhl 24-2
3. Hayfield 22-4
4. Goodhue 19-7
5. Menahga 26-0
6. Ada-Borup/Norman County West 23-2
7. Minneota 21-4
8. Lac qui Parle Valley 24-3
9. Grand Meadow 21-5
10. Stephen-Argyle 23-3
11. Bigfork 22-3
12. Red Lake 23-3
13. Mayer Lutheran 17-9
14. Parkers Prairie 23-2
15. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 19-7
16. BOLD 21-5
17. Sleepy Eye 22-4
18. Southwest MN Christian 21-4
19. Heritage Christian 16-10
20. Wabasso 19-3

Final Class 2A Girls Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/1/2018 3:13:30 PM

From Minnesota Basketball News (regular-season records).

1. Sauk Centre 26-0
2. Maranatha Christian 22-4
3. Roseau 20-5
4. Minnehaha Academy 18-7
5. Rush City 21-1
6. Norwood-Young America 23-3
7. Holy Family Catholic 18-8
8. Stewartville 21-5
9. Eden Valley-Watkins 23-3
10. Rochester Lourdes 18-8
11. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 22-4
12. East Grand Forks 21-5
13. Watertown-Mayer 20-6
14. New London-Spicer 19-6
15. Byron 15-10
16. St. Peter 19-7
17. Barnesville 20-5
18. Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 25-2
19. St. Cloud Cathedral 20-6
20. Proctor 20-6

Final Class 3A Girls Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/1/2018 3:13:00 PM

From Minnesota Basketball News (regular-season records).

1. Robbinsdale Cooper 24-2
2. Holy Angels 22-4
3. Mahtomedi 23-2
4. Northfield 23-3
5. DeLaSalle 16-8
6. Willmar 23-2
7. Grand Rapids 19-7
8. Hutchinson 20-6
9. Alexandria 21-5
10. Waseca 23-4
11. Fergus Falls 19-7
12. New Ulm 19-6
13. Hill-Murray 17-9
14. St. Paul Como Park 18-8
15. Mankato West 19-7
16. Red Wing 20-6
17. Waconia 18-8
18. Benilde-St. Margaret’s 17-9
19. Hermantown 21-5
20. Chisago Lakes 15-11

Final Class 4A Girls Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/1/2018 3:12:03 PM

From Minnesota Basketball News (regular-season records).

1. Eastview 25-0
2. Hopkins 23-3
3. Centennial 23-3
4. Lakeville North 21-5
5. St. Michael-Albertville 23-3
6. Wayzata 24-2
7. Maple Grove 21-5
8. Champlin Park 22-4
9. Roseville 19-7
10. Cretin-Derham Hall 18-6
11. Moorhead 17-9
12. Minnetonka 16-10
13. Park Center 17-9
14. Park-Cottage Grove 18-8
15. Eden Prairie 15-11
16. Apple Valley 15-11
17. Anoka 17-9
18. Farmington 17-9
19. Minneapolis South 21-5
20. Stillwater 16-10

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