Little kids shooting hoops on asphalt courts. Teenagers gathering inside the school gym to work on their skills when they could have their faces buried in electronic devices. Small towns filled with people who appreciate hard work and tradition and take great pride in their hometown teams.
Rushford-Peterson and Melrose, that’s what we’re talking about here. Those two teams took home boys basketball state championships Saturday, and if you listen close you can probably hear all the hoops and hollers still emanating from inside the borders of those communities.
The two stories are not identical. Both teams have won previous state titles, but the time frames are much different. Rushford won the Class 1A championship in 1989 and 2006, finished fourth at state in 2010 and third in both 2012 and 2013 before a runner-up finish last season.
Rushford-Peterson defeated Maranatha Christian Academy 51-44 Saturday at Target Center, handing the Mustangs their second Class 1A championship-game defeat in three years.
Melrose, on the other hand, has waited a long, long time. The Dutchmen last came to state (and won a championship) in 1974, when the great Mark Olberding was the star. Forty-one years later they held off Caledonia 63-51 to capture the Class 2A title.
Hard work and tradition are main ingredients for both teams.
“When I was a little kid we won a state championship,” said Rushford-Peterson senior Cole Kingsley, who played on an ankle that was injured in Thursday’s quarterfinals. He was talking about 2006, way back “when I was a younger kid, seeing them play up here, it was a dream of all of us.
“Growing up, that’s kind of all we’d do in Rushford. There’s not a whole lot to do, so we were usually always in the gym playing basketball. … We play a lot of basketball down there in Rushford and it’s good to see all the hard work pay off.”
Tom Vix has been the Rushford-Peterson coach for 30 years and this was the 15th time he brought a team to state. He knows as well as anyone that success breeds success, or as he put it Saturday, “Winning brings more winning.”
“Our gym is full all the time,” Vix said. “Any time there’s a night when the kids don’t have anything to do, they’re playing basketball; Saturday nights, Sunday afternoons, little kids. I know with the nice weather all the blacktop will be full with little kids playing. They all want to be Cole Kingsley, they all want to be Alex Vix, they all want to be Noah Carlson or whoever. I saw a lot of our little kids with a number and name written on their foreheads today.”
For Melrose, the 41-year drought between state tournaments has been all the tougher because the Dutchmen have come close to many times. Assistant coach Daryl Oja, who was the head coach for 28 years, has seen a lot of near misses.
“This was the 10th time since 1974 we played in a section final game,” he said. “Something would happen and we wouldn’t win.”
He was talking while the Dutchmen were cutting down the net after the championship game. The Melrose fans roared each time a player climbed a ladder and took a snip with a scissors.
“Look at this,” Oja said. “The community and basketball, the pride is so awesome, it’s unbelievable.”
CLASS 3A: DELASALLE 82, ST. PAUL JOHNSON 64
The Islanders became only the fourth team in the 103-year history of the tournament to win four consecutive state titles. They did so in convincing fashion against the Governors.
The other teams to complete the four-peat were Southwest Minnesota Christian (Class 1A, 1999-2002) and Minneapolis Patrick Henry (3A, 2000-03).
CLASS 4A: APPLE VALLEY 64, CHAMPLIN PARK 61
Apple Valley was strong down the stretch and held on for the win in a back-and-forth game between the top two seeds in the tournament. Top-seeded Champlin Park suffered it first loss after 31 victories and the Eagles finished the season with a 30-2 record. Apple Valley lost to Champlin Park in late December and to Eastview in February.
It was Apple Valley’s second state title in three years.
Class 1A/ Petric VanErp, Eric VanErp, Battle Lake; Austin Bulthuis, Taylor Slagter, Central Minnesota Christian; Damario Armstrong, Jeremiah Hanson, Jake Meyen, Maranatha Christian; Charlie Krambeer, Kyler Paulson, Alex Vix, Rushford-Peterson.
Class 2A/ Ade Lamu, Trenton Krueger, St. Croix Lutheran; Jonah Breiter, Jeff Lewis, Maple River; Owen King, Colton Lampert, Kyle Sorenson, Caledonia; Tyler Braegelmann, Dillon Haider, Drake Meyer, Melrose.
Class 3A/ Gorg Alhag, CJ Ayers, Mankato East; Joey Kortuem, Oliver Smith, Waconia; Eric Elliott, Jalen Mobley, Malik Jones, St. Paul Johnson; Sacar Anim, Joshua Collins, Jarvis Johnson, DeLaSalle.
Class 4A/ Steffon Mitchell, Booker Coplin, Shakopee; Carter Brooks, Drew Stewart, Lakeville North; Gary Trent Jr., Tre Jones, Brock Bertram, Apple Valley; Marty Hill, JT Gibson, McKinley Wright, Champlin Park.
Two people were honored at halftime of Saturday night’s games. During the Class 3A game, Dave Harris of Alexandria was honored as the inaugural recipient of the MSHSL Outstanding Media Service Award. Dave recently retired after a distinguished 48-year career as a sports broadcaster at KXRA radio in Alexandria.
At halftime of the Class 4A game, recently retired MSHSL director of information Howard Voigt was honored. Howard served the MSHSL and the students of Minnesota during a distinguished 25-year career.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 430
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 8,109