To watch Kali Peschel playing in this year’s girls state basketball tournament was a testament to healing, to recovery, to hard work and gratitude. The Sauk Centre senior’s story is filled with ups and down, good times and bad, and to see her smile was one of the great tales of tournament week.
A little background: Kali is a 6-foot-1 guard who ranks among the top players in Minnesota. A year ago this week, while the Mainstreeters were finishing third at the Class 2A state tourney, she announced that she would play at the University of Iowa. But last June, everything went kablooey when Kali suffered a torn ACL in her left knee during a summer league game.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” said her father Don, who is an assistant coach at Sauk Centre. “It’s just a real depressing, tragic deal.”
First there was the injury, then the medical procedures, then crutches and rehab and healing. All in all, Kali was on the shelf for six and a half months. She is also a tremendous volleyball player, but she wore a knee brace and street clothes on the Mainstreeters bench at the state tournament, where the team finished fifth.
But what about her senior basketball season? What about her college career? Those were big, big questions during those six and a half months. The good news finally came in mid-February when Kali was cleared to return to basketball. She returned with four games left in the regular season.
“She’s struggled at times with her stamina,” Don said. “She’s not 100 percent yet but it’s coming.”
The thought of never returning to high school basketball and preparing for college crossed Kali’s mind, but not for long.
“I could save myself and just keep getting ready for the next level,” she said. “But I have no regrets about coming back. I’m thankful to be back and I’m really happy to be back and playing.”
Don said, “It was almost like trying to hold back a wild animal. But she wanted to try and get back. The coaches at Iowa gave her the blessing; they said, ‘You’re a senior. Go play.’ That was a big boost for us.”
Kali led the Mainstreeters with 14 points and six assists in a 65-51 quarterfinal win over Worthington, then had 18 points and 18 rebounds as Sauk Centre beat New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva 56-39 in the semifinals. Sauk Centre lost to Providence Academy 46-40 in Saturday’s championship game; Peschel had 12 points and Macy Weller led the Mainstreeters with 14.
“To be back is amazing and it’s a great team to be playing with; they were very accepting to having me back and adapting me into the game,” she said. “I’m very excited, very blessed to be back and humbled by everything that’s happening in this tournament.
“Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been watching the state tournaments and dreamed of it. This year, honestly I was just happy to get back. I was hoping we could get to the state tournament, and that happened. And I hoped we’d win our first game so I’d get two more, and that happened. And now this is just a dream. I never thought it would happen but I’m happy it did.”
THE LEARNING CURVE
A year ago Mountain-Iron Buhl came to the state tournament for the first time since 1994 and finished third. On Saturday, the Rangers took one step further, losing to Maranatha Christian 49-37 in the Class 1A championship game.
The Rangers were one of the youngest teams in any class, with Dakotah Winans (who had 12 points and 14 rebounds Saturday) the only senior among the starters and first three players off the bench.
“They play hard and they play with heart, and we did that for 36 minutes today,” coach Jeff Buffetta said. “They gave it their all, they laid it all out on the floor and I couldn’t be prouder of their effort.
“I just know that we gave it our full effort. And if we make a few plays here and there in the second half, maybe the result’s reversed. But it’s hard to feel down when you know that everybody gave it their all.”
OTHER CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES
3A/ DeLaSalle repeated as champion with a 65-45 victory over Richfield. Allina Starr led the Islanders with 24 points and Tyseanna Johnson had 16. Bryann Guyton led Richfield with 15 points.
4A/ Hopkins 77, Osseo 55. The Royals won their second consecutive state title as Nia Coffey (15), Sydney Coffey (15) and TT Starks (10) combined to score 40 points. Olivia Antilla led Osseo with 15 points.
THE RECORD BREAKER
New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva sophomore Carlie Wagner set two tournament scoring records.
Wagner, who came four points from tying the state tournament single-game scoring record on Wednesday, broke that record on Saturday. She had 43 points in the quarterfinals vs. Braham and poured in 48 in Saturday’s third-place game, in which NRHEG beat Pequot Lakes 73-59. The previous record of 47 was held by Brittany Chambers of Jordan (vs. Crookston in 2008) and Tayler Hill of Minneapolis South (vs. Centennial in 2009).
Wagner’s three-game tournament total of 112 points topped the previous record of 106, set by Hill in 2009.
1A/ Ada-Borup 70, Spring Grove 59: Taylor Kujava made four of five three-point attempts and scored 25 points to lead the Cougars. Richell Mehus had 23 points for Spring Grove.
2A/ Wagner’s tournament-record boosted NHREG past Pequot Lakes. Mattie Lueck had 32 points and a game-high 11 rebounds for the Patriots.
3A/ Fergus Falls 65, Hutchinson 54: Mariah Monke (13), Anna Monke (12) and Sydney Schultz (12) provided a balanced scoring attack for the Otters. Kayle Kucera led Hutchinson with 19 points.
4A/ Edina 52, Eastview 43/ The Hornets used 60-percent shooting and 21 points from Katybeth Biewen to defeat the Lightning. Madison Guebert led Eastview with 13 points.
1A/ Taylor Elton, Richell Mehus, Spring Grove; Taylor Kujava, Megan Kolness, Ada-Borup; Kathy Ostman, Dakotah Winans, Sarah Overbye, Mountain Iron-Buhl; Madison Lee, Alexis Long, Onye Osemenam, Maranatha Christian.
2A/ Rebekah Dahlman, Braham; Mattie Lueck, Pequot Lakes; Anna Schlaak, Carlie Wagner, New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva; Taylor Finley, AnnMarie Healy, Nathalie Ratliff, Providence Academy; Kali Peschel, Macy Weller, Ashley Gruber, Sauk Centre.
3A/ Nichole Wittman, Hutchinson; Brianna Rasmusson, Mariah Monke, Fergus Falls; Jessica January, Sierra Ford Washington, Bryann Guyton, Richfield; Tyseanna Johnson, Mariah Adanene, Allina Starr, Mia Loyd, DeLaSalle.
4A/ Madison Guebert, Eastview; Katybeth Biewen, MC McGrory, Edina; Mikayla Bailey, Phillis Webb, Olivia Antilla, Osseo; Taylor Anderson, Nia Coffey, TT Starks, Sydney Coffey, Hopkins.
IRISH EYES ARE SMILING
Best Irish Names on the Court During St. Patrick’s Day: Tie between Erin O’Toole and Molly O’Toole, both from O’Hopkins. (Last year’s contest was a tie between Erin O’Toole and Shannon O’Toole, also from O’Hopkins.) Honorable Mention: Madi Malone from O’sseo.
--Diet Coke Count: 5 for the day, 16 for the tournament, 66 for the winter tournaments.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 425
*Miles John has driven: 6,877
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