One of the most interesting storylines in the girls state basketball tournament came to an early end Wednesday, when Red Wing lost to top-seeded Hill-Murray 72-52 in the Class 3A quarterfinals at Williams Arena. The outcome was not much of a surprise, considering that the Pioneers are the only undefeated team in any class and Red Wing came in with a record of 18-9.
The storyline is Red Wing coach Kraig Ulveling. Those of us who have written about high school athletics for a while remember him as the coach of the Red Wings boys basketball team. During a 28-year coaching career, he built the Wingers into a powerhouse, qualifying for state tournaments in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. In 2002 and 2004 Red Wing was the state runner-up. Before going to Red Wing, he won a state championship in South Dakota.
Ulveling, the father of daughters, switched over to the girls side in the 2004-05 season and brought the Wingers to state that season. They made a return trip Wednesday.
Red Wing gave Hill-Murray a test, leading by nine points early in the second half before the Pioneers charged back to win. Hill-Murray coach Erin Herman had nothing but great things to say about the Wingers, and Ulveling (pictured at right) felt the same way about the Pioneers.
“They stepped up when they needed to,” he said. “They’re well-coached and Erin does a great job. They’re a championship team. They were down nine and they answered.”
After the game the Wingers were slow in leaving the locker room, as if usually the case when the season ends. But the moment was especially difficult for Ulveling, who coached his daughter Jennifer, a senior, for the final time. “That’s tough,” he said.
Hill-Murray had a distinct size advantage on the Wingers, as well as experience returning from last year’s state runner-up finish. The Red Wing roster, as Ulveling put it, “is a bunch of golfers and tennis players, and we put them together in the winter.”
ANOKA MEETS THE DEFENDING STATE CHAMPIONS
The Cinderella story of the Anoka Tornadoes – as documented here earlier in the week – came to an end Wednesday when defending state champ Lakeville North beat Anoka 64-40 in Class 4A. The Tornadoes, who were 2-24 in the regular season, saw their four-game postseason winning streak end.
“We knew it was a steep mountain to climb and we wanted them to enjoy it,” Anoka coach James Fassett said. “We tried to play loose and enjoy the experience.”
He said he told his players, "Hold your heads up, because this is something you will remember for the rest of your lives. You are the first girls basketball team from Anoka to get to the state tournament.”
--The seedings in 4A and 3A held true to form with one exception. Unseeded White Bear Lake beat number four seed Maple Grove 43-40 in a 4A game. The remaining seeds all won: Hopkins, Eden Prairie and Lakeville North in 4A, and Hill-Murray, Benilde-St. Margaret’s, DeLaSalle and Alexandria in 3A.
--Wednesday’s winners in the Class 2A tournament – which is not seeded – were Sauk Centre, Minnehaha Academy, Braham and Providence Academy. Class 2A teams take Thursday off and play their semifinals on Friday night at Target Center.
--Back For More: As a sophomore last year, Hill-Murray’s Tessa Cichy impressed everyone with her talents and demeanor as the Pioneers finished second in 3A. There has been no drop-off this season: Cichy took the ball off the opening tip against Red Wing, dribbled between her legs and scored the first points in the Pioneers’ win. Cichy (18) and 6-foot-4 center Bethany Doolittle (24) combined for 42 points.
--Best-Dressed: Hill-Murray wore their green uniforms and shoes, a day ahead of St. Patrick’s Day.
--Epic Pep Band Moment: The orchestras from Hill-Murray and Red Wing were seated with one empty section separating them at Williams Arena. But band directors Dan Maars of Red Wing and Traci Youngs of Hill-Murray, being friends, decided to bring the bands together. So the Hill-Murray kids moved over one section, snuggled up next to the Wingers, and the two bands combined to play an outstanding version of “Hey Baby” at halftime.
--Instant Communication: I learned via email as well as Twitter that the live stats feed from Williams Arena (with game updates posted on mshsl.org) was having issues Wednesday. I alerted the proper authorities, who have much larger brains than I.
--Favorite Moment of Day One: In the final 40 seconds of the game, as the Hill-Murray and Red Wing coaches were emptying the benches, Wingers freshman Kelsey Reding ran downcourt at Williams Arena wearing one of the biggest smiles around.
--Annual Reunion: State tournaments always offer opportunities to see old friends. Wednesday’s favorite for me was Kelly Roysland. I first saw Kelly at Williams Arena when she was helping Fosston High School win state championhips in 2000, 2001 and 2003. Our chats continued when she was playing for the Gophers, and now she’s a Gophers assistant coach. Before being hired by Gophers coach Pam Borton, Kelly was an assistant at North Dakota State for two years. As I told her Wednesday, the Gophers (and all of us in Minnesota) are lucky to have her back.
Thursday's Class 1A quarterfinals, all at Williams Arena...
11 a.m.: Goodhue vs. Hancock
1 p.m.: Minneota vs. Maranatha Christian
3 p.m.: Mountain Iron-Buhl vs. Northern Freeze
5 p.m.: Nicollet vs. Sebeka
--Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 4 for the tournament, 48 for the winter tournaments.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 512
*Miles John has driven: 8,564
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