State tournaments are special. That’s no secret, certainly. They come along every year in every sport and it may be easy to take them for granted just a bit. I hope that never happens to me or you.
I was reminded again of how awesome our tournaments are while sitting courtside at Williams Arena on Saturday. It was Championship Saturday for girls basketball, with big crowds and talented teams giving it everything they had. In the midst of all this, I had an exchange of online messages with a young friend of mine.
His name is Colin Nelson. He’s a senior and an Honor Roll student at New Ulm Cathedral High School. Colin and I have known each for a while now; he keeps me updated on what’s happening in the New Ulm area and we check in with each other online on a regular basis.
Colin isn’t an athlete but he’s a team manager, a scorekeeper, loves sports and does a lot of things to stay involved. He’s always upbeat and he often sends positive messages to his friends on Twitter. I like that young man a lot.
That’s how Colin and I chatted Saturday, via Twitter. This was our exchange…
Colin: “You're doing an impressive job covering these games. You have a dream job!”
Me: “Thanks Colin. I'm having fun!”
Colin: “5 years as a student manager and didn't make it to the state tournament once... It must be an electric experience.”
Me: “It's pretty cool. Never gets old.”
I cannot be more honest in making that statement. It never gets old. To hear a band strike up the school song as the fans clap along (which is happening as I write this … the teams from Winona and Holy Angels have just taken the court for the Class 3A championship game), well, how can you beat that?
Which brings us to some postgame comments made after the championship games. It’s easy for winning players and coaches to talk after these affairs; when you come out on the short end of the stick, well, it’s not so simple to sit in front of reporters and talk about it.
However, some of the most memorable postgame words came from those on the losing end Saturday.
Maranatha Christian senior guard Alaina Jarnot has played in the last five Class 1A state tournaments; her sister Jaclyn is a sophomore on the team. Alaina will play Division I basketball at Monmouth University in New Jersey. The Mustangs lost in the state championship game last year and this year, which one might think would be a bitter pill for a graduating senior. Not Alaina.
”I’m so blessed to play here,” she said. “I’ve had an amazing coach. My sister, I’m going to miss playing with her so much and all my other teammates. I’ve been to the state tournament since eighth grade. I’m just so happy to be part of this program.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Winona senior Hallee Hoeppner, who led the Winhawks in scoring this season and had a team-high 15 points in the Winhawks’ 51-43 loss to Holy Angels in the 3A title game.
“I’m just really proud to be a part of this team,” Hallee said after fighting back tears (of gratitude, not sadness). “I just had such a fun time playing with these girls. I told them in the locker room not to be hard on themselves. I have so many memories on and off the court and they have become my best friends. Even if we didn’t get a state title, I’m so happy to have been a part of this team.”
And then there was Mike Dreier, coach at New London-Spicer. Mike is as legendary as they come; in 38 years with the Wildcats, he is Minnesota girls basketball’s all-time leader in victories (863) and trips to state (16). His teams have played in eight state championship games, winning titles in 1997 and 2002.
On Saturday, unseeded New London-Spicer lost to a powerful top-seeded team from Plainview-Elgin-Millville 72-42 in the Class 2A championship game. And coach Dreier couldn’t have been more positive afterwards.
“It wasn’t the way we’d like it to end, but what a dream to be where we are,” he said. “We finished third in our conference and it was really a treat to get here. It was a great tournament for us, a great year. I am totally upbeat about what we did.”
Dreier also spoke very highly of Plainview-Elgin-Millville.
“Teams like that usually win state tournaments,” he said. “They’re tough, a well-coached team, good athletes and good size. They were the real deal, the total package and I salute them.”
That is true sportsmanship and total class. Let’s never take those things for granted, either.
CLASS 1A: GOODHUE 89, MARANATHA CHRISTIAN 64
The top-seeded Wildcats won their first state championship in six trips to the tournament. They were the state runner-up in 2010. Maddy Miller led Goodhue with 28 points and 11 rebounds, and Sydney Lodermeier had 24 and 12. Third-seeded Maranatha was led by Alaina Jarnot and Elise Moore with 18 points each,
CLASS 2A: PLAINVIEW-ELGIN-MILLVILLE 72, NEW LONDON-SPICER 42
The top-seeded Bulldogs captured their first title since Plainview merged with Elgin-Millville in 2006. (Elgin-Millville won the 2005 championship). P-E-M was led by Emmaline Polsin with 22 points and 10 rebounds, while Sarah Hart had 13 points. Megan Thorson scored 13 for New London-Spicer.
CLASS 3A/ HOLY ANGELS 51, WINONA 43
The fifth-seeded Stars overcame 30-percent shooting to defeat the second-seeded Winhawks. Holy Angels won the game at the free throw line, making 20 of 26 attempts to Winona’s 2 of 4. Laura Bagwell-Katalinich led the Stars with 25 points and 16 rebounds. Hallee Hoeppner scored 15 for the Winhawks.
CLASS 4A/ MINNETONKA 61, HOPKINS 52
The third-seeded Skippers won their first state championship, leading 34-26 at halftime and never trailing in the second half. Top-seeded Hopkins was aiming for its sixth title since 2006. Lizzie Odegard led Minnetonka with 17 points and 23 rebounds, followed by Courtney Fredrickson with 13 points and Chrissy Carr with 10. Ashley Bates led Hopkins with 28 points and Nia Hollie had 18.
--A total of 49 fouls were called in the Goodhue-Maranatha Christian game, 28 on Maranatha. Asked about the officiating, Mustangs coach Chris Buerman said, “I don’t ever believe an official is going to determine the game. At your best you’re going to be 50 percent right. I know if I did the job I would be probably 25 percent right. I complain to officials and then I go back and watch the tape and see that they were usually right.”
--After Sauk Centre lost to New London-Spicer 49-46 in Friday night’s semifinals, two sisters embraced in an emotional hug in a hallway at Williams Arena. Sauk Centre sophomore Kelsey Peschel was wrapped up in the arms of big sister Kali, a senior captain at the University of Iowa who helped the Mainstreeters reach three state tournaments.
--As noted previously in John’s Journal, the Goodhue band and many other students missed Friday’s and Saturday’s games at state because they were in Florida on a school trip. The band from Plainview-Elgin-Millville filled in admirably, playing the Goodhue school song as the Wildcats won the 1A title. That's what you call teamwork.
1A/ Mountain Iron-Buhl 65, Wheaton/Herman-Norcross 37
2A/ Roseau 94, Sauk Centre 82
3A/ Thief River Falls 56, Becker 42
4A/ Eagan 53, White Bear Lake 48
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 596
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 9,020