Few girls basketball coaches have more state tournament experience than Faith Johnson Patterson of DeLaSalle. This year is her 12th appearance at state, ranking third all-time behind Myron Glass of Rochester Lourdes (15) and Mike Dreier of New London-Spicer (14).
Patterson had a record of 302-78 in 14 years at Minneapolis North and took 10 teams to state; the Lady Polars won five state championships and finished second four times. She took over at DeLaSalle last season and – no surprise – brought the Islanders to state right out of the chute. They finished third in Class 3A a year ago, losing to Hill-Murray in the semifinals.
The third-seeded Islanders defeated defending state champion and second-seeded Benilde-St. Margaret’s 55-46 in Thursday’s Class 3A semifinals at Target Center. They will meet top-seeded Hill-Murray, the only undefeated team in Minnesota, in Saturday’s 6 p.m. championship game. The Pioneers beat Alexandria 68-41 Thursday.
Patterson is never afraid to let her emotions show, and after Thursday’s victory she was her usual ebullient self. After leaving the Target Center court, she stood in a corridor outside the Islanders locker room and high-fived every cheerleader and school band member she could reach as they passed by.
My line of postgame questioning was of an historical bent. I asked Faith what all her state tournament experience means when she brings another team to the big show. She said she tries to make sure her players know how difficult the road can be at state.
“It really is a fight,” she said. “With these teams here, it’s very competitive when you get to this point and it’s really a battle. The officials kind of let people play and you just kind of have to go for it, give it your all, because it could be your last game.
“With my experience, I’ve won, I’ve lost, but the bottom line for me is that I’m so happy every year because you get a new group of kids and they’re so ecstatic. It’s so more rewarding to see them get here than it is for myself. I am so thrilled for them.”
Every season means some new varsity players, and preparing a team for state is much different than getting ready for the regular season, Patterson said.
“You have to spend a whole lot of time educating, because they don’t know what it’s like. You’ve got to just prepare them to just play basketball and not to worry. Obviously you can’t replace experience with knowledge or someone telling somebody something, so the only thing I can do as a coach is do my best to prepare them for this.”
I asked Faith what she remembers from her very first trip to state with Minneapolis North in 1997.
“I wasn’t prepared,” she said simply. “I just had kids who played hard and I knew the teams would be competitive. Looking back at that first experience, number one, I was proud to get them there. And as a coach I was fortunate because I knew at that point what I needed to do to get better, and each year I try to get better myself so I can lead these guys.”
CLASS 4A SEMIFINALS ARE SET
The 4A championship game should be a good one, based on the semifinals. Top-seeded Hopkins defeated White Bear Lake 52-34 in Thursday’s first 4A game at Target Center, and Eden Prairie knocked off defending state champ Lakeville North 49-32 in the nightcap.
Lakeville North led 22-19 at halftime but Eden Prairie outscored the Panthers 30-10 in the second half.
Hopkins and Eden Prairie, which split two games during the Lake Conference season, will decide the state title Saturday night at 8 o’clock.
The Class 1A and 2A teams take over Target Center on Friday for their semifinal games. Here’s the lineup …
Noon: Hancock vs. Maranatha Christian Academy
2 p.m. Mountain Iron-Buhl vs. Nicollet
6 p.m.: Sauk Centre vs. Minnehaha Academy
8 p.m.: Braham vs. Providence Academy
--Reunion, Day Two: Wednesday’s Williams Arena chat with Kelly Roysland (noted in previous post) was followed by another meeting with a former prep star on Thursday at Target Center. This time it was Megan Nipe, an all-stater who helped lead Centennial to a 4A runner-up finish in 2009 and now is a sophomore basketball player at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Megan has had two knee surgeries and redshirted this past season. She’s majoring in journalism, is home for spring break and was spending some time visiting my old haunt, the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Assistant sports editor Dennis Brackin and Megan spent some time sitting courtside at Target Center on Thursday.
--Smiling Amid the Action: During the first TV timeout of the 3A semifinal between Benilde-St. Margaret’s and DeLaSalle, Benilde ninth-grade guard Grace Coughlin was in position to defend an inbounds pass near midcour t. There were a few seconds of dead time as the officials waited for the go-ahead to resume the game. Grace relaxed ever so briefly, looked up into the crowd and saw some familiar faces cheering for her. She couldn’t help but smile. It was one of the great unseen moments of the tournament.
--Best Irish Names on the Court During St. Patrick’s Day: Tie between Erin O’Toole and Shannon O’Toole, both from O’Hopkins. Honorable Mention: Kristen O’Brien and Shayne Mullaney, both from O’Eden O’Prairie.
--Sharpest Uniforms Seen So Far: DeLaSalle’s black with gold trim are outstanding. Islanders sophomore Tyseanna Johnson gets extra points for her black and gold shoes.
--Best Vertical: When the net became tangled after a basket, Benilde-St. Margaret’s 6-foot junior Khadijah Shumpert rose to the occasion, leaping up and performing the untangling. The crowd cheered.
--Wow Factor: As the team from Alexandria was escorted to their locker room at Target Center, the players noticed that they were across the corridor from the Timberwolves locker room. One of the Cardinals asked me, “Is that their actual locker room?” Upon confirmation, another player said, “This is so sweet!” Another asked me, “Is KLove here?” Sorry, no sightings; the Timberwolves will play the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday night.
--Day’s First Photo: At 10:15 a.m., with the Target Center lights not yet at full steam and the Hill-Murray team not yet in uniform, the Pioneers posed for a team photo.
--Cool Tunes: The Hill-Murray band’s version of “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And Hopkins knocking out a splendid version of “I’ve Gotta Feeling.”
--Only Coach Wearing Open-Toed Shoes: Alexandria’s Wendy Kohler.
--Uh-Oh: I received this troubling email notification Thursday evening: Weight Loss (@WeightLoss70) is now following your tweets (@MSHSLjohn) on Twitter.
--After one of Friday’s games, a coach asked me what has become an everyday question: “What’s the count today?” I explained that throughout the girls hockey, wrestling and boys hockey state tournaments, the count was four every day with two exceptions; once it was three, but the next day it was five. So the daily average is a very solid four. Which takes us to…
--Diet Coke Count: 5 for the day, 9 for the tournament, 53 for the winter tournaments.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 512
*Miles John has driven: 8,636
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