Monday, February 26, 2018

2018 Class AA Girls Basketball Section Preview

Though some of the Class AA sections are already in progress, there are several that are about to begin.  Who is left and who could contend in the eight Class AA sections.

The top four seeds in Section 1 are still alive.  The top seeded Stewartville Tigers are in the hunt for their first trip to the state tournament but they have to get past the fourth seeded Caledonia Warriors or the fifth seeded Zumbrota-Mazeppa Cougars.  On the other end of the bracket the second seeded Rochester Lourdes, who have built a solid program under Myron Glass are now under the leadership of Aaron Berg.  They will face the third seeded Byron Bears in their quest for their 18th state tournament appearance.

In Section 2, the Norwood-Young America Raiders are three wins away from their first trip down Highway 5 to Minneapolis since 2016.  They have one 10 straight games and one of them was to a team they will likely face in the section final the St. Peter Saints.  Before they head to Mankato for the section final, Gary Lembcke's bunch could have a rematch with the Glencoe-Silver Lake Panthers, who they beat 55-44 on January 20.

Down south in Section 3, the two top seeds, the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton Panthers and the Eden Valley-Watkins Eagles are still in contention.  But look for the Martin County West mavericks and the New London-Spicer Wildcats, who got head coach Mike Dreier's 900th career win early in 2018.  It could be an interesting section to watch.

Now to Section 4 where the top seeded Minnehaha Academy Redhawks return several players from last year;'s state tournament team including Taytum and Terra Rhoades.  There could be a rematch with the second seeded Concordia Academy Beacons who Minnehaha beat on December 5 77-71.  The sleeper team to watch is the third seeded St. Croix Prep Lions.  Now if you're wondering where St. Croix Prep is located, it's in the home of the Ponies, Stillwater.  The Lions got off to a 5-0 start and have gone 12-7 the rest of the way.

If there's one section that's tough to forecast, it's Section 5.  There are five teams that have a legitimate shot at heading to Target Center.  First up is the top seeded Holy Family Catholic Fire.  The Fire hasn't been on fire lately, losing three of their last four games.  One of them was to the second seeded Maranatha Christian Academy Mustangs, moved up to Class AA after dominating Class A under Jim Hammond and now Chris Buerman.  The Mustangs have played a tough nonconference schedule and it can prove they're ready to make a statement.  There's also the third seeded Watertown-Mayer Royals, led by Monica and Maggie Czinano.  Gopher fans could see Monica next season at the Barn because she signed with the Iowa Hawkeyes.  But wait, there's more.  The fourth seeded Minneapolis North Polars have won seven of their last eight games and the fifth seeded Annandale Cardinals, coached by Mike Dreier's son Matt.  Take a drive up I-94 to St.Michael-Albertville for the semifinals.  Which team will play for a state tournament berth March 9 in St. Cloud?

The top seed in Section 6 is the top ranked team in Class AA the Sauk Centre Mainstreeters.  Scott Bergman has another talented team led by the Peschels, Kelsey and Tori and Maesyn Thiesen.  Mainstreeter fans, before you get on your cell phone to make hotel reservations to Minneapolis, there are two other teams that can end Sauk Centre's section title reign, the St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders and the Rush City Tigers, who lost to the Crusaders in overtime January 29.  The Tigers have only two seniors on their roster Abby Moe and Stephanie Braund.  Can Rush City rush past Sauk Centre for their first trip to state?

There could be a four team race in Section 7 as the Esko Eskomos are in the hunt for their 13th state tournament trip.  But on their heels are the Proctor Rails, the Duluth Marshall Hilltoppers and the Mesabi East Giants.  The Hilltoppers are the only Twin Ports area school that's never played in a state tournament.  Will it be their year?

Finally in Section 8, another four team race is possible with the Barnesville Trojans, the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Rebels, the East Grand Forks Green Wave and the defending Class AA champion Roseau Rams.  Another interseting section to watch.

Next up, the eight Class A sections.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

2018 Class AAA Girls Basketball Section Preview

After examining the eight Class AAAA sections, here's a preview of the eight Class AAA sections.

The top seed in Section 1 is the Northfield Raiders who have gone 15-1 since losing to Beaver Dam, WI in the St. Olaf Invitational December 30.  Their Big Nine Conference rival the Red Wing Wingers are the second seed.

Over in Section 2, six of the seven teams have a winning record and this looks like the toughest section in Class AAA  The top seed and a first round bye goes to the Mankato West Scarlets.  Also vying for a trip to Minneapolis is the second seeded Hutchinson Tigers, the third seeded Waseca Blue Jays, the fourth seeded New Ulm Eagles, the fifth seeded Worthington Trojans and the sixth seeded Marshall Tigers.  Who will come out of this section?  Take a drive down Highway 169 to Mankato for the semifinals and to St. Peter for the championship to find out if the Scarlets make their first trip to state or one of the other five teams that could bring home the section title trophy.

There could be a two team race in Section 3 between the top seeded Holy Angels Stars, led by Destinee Oberg, who has committed to Arkansas and Kaylie VanDerWerf and the third seeded St. Croix Lutheran Crusaders who have moved up from Class AA to AAA.  The Crusaders are looking for their first state tournament berth.  Who will it be?  There's also the second seeded Simley Spartans.

In Section 4, the top seeded Mahtomedi Zephyrs have gone 16-1 since they lost to Chisago Lakes December 19.  The second seeded DeLaSalle Islanders have rebounded from an 0-4 start to go 15-4 and could be a threat to foil the Zephyrs first trip to state.  The third seeded Hill-Murray Pioneers are in the hunt for their 14th state tournament appearance, their first in five years.

Now to Section 5 as the top seeded Willmar Cardinals rebounded from a two game losing streak in January to finish the season 8-0.  The red hot Cardinals have to contend with the second seeded Big Lake Hornets and the third seeded Zimmerman Thunder, who is looking for their first trip down Highway 169 to The Barn.

History could be in the making in Section 6 where the top ranked team in Class AAA and the number one seeded Cooper Hawks are two wins away from their first state tournament.  There are on a 17 game winning streak and haven't lost since they fell to the Centennial Cougars December 29 in the Roseville Tournament.  Can they get past the second seeded Waconia Wildcats and the thrid seeded Benilde-St. Margaret's Red Knights?

Up in section 7, the top seeded Grand Rapids Thunderhawks are on a five game winning streak.  One team they beat in that run is the second seeded Hermantown Hawks, who have lost three in a row.  They will need to get back on track against the seventh seed North Branch Vikings or they won't be in the hunt to make the trip down I-35 to the Twin Cities.

And in Section 8, the top seeded Alexandria Cardinals look to return to state after they lost in last year's Class AAA semifinals to the eventual state champion Orono Spartans.  But first they have to get past the second seeded Fergus Falls Otters and the third seeded Sartell-St. Stephen Sabres.  Cardinal head coach Wendy Kohler has led eight teams to the state tournament.  could this year be number nine?

The eight Class AA sections are next.

2018 Class AAAA Girls Basketball Section Preview

Now that girls hockey has ended and boys hockey is heading into section finals week it's time for section play to get underway in girls basketball.  Here's a look at the eight Class AAAA sections.

In Section 1, The Lakeville North Panthers are on a roll with eight straight wins and the number one seed.  but a couple of South Suburban Conference rivals are on their heels.  They are the second seeded Farming Tigers and the third seeded Lakeville South Cougars.  Who could break up the South Suburban monopoly?  The fourth seeded Owatonna Huskies.

Over in Section 2, the pairings have not yet been posted but there is no dominant team in the section.  The Minnetonka Skippers and the Eden Prairie Eagles could be the top two seeds.

Now in Section 3, what a season it has been for head coach Molly Kasper and the Eastview Lightning.  They head into section play 26-0 and the number one seed.  Looking to pull the upset is the second seeded Park of Cottage Grove Wolfpack and the third seeded Apple Valley Eagles.  Could the section final be "The Battle of Apple Valley?

It could be a three team race in Section 4 with the top seeded Cretin-Derham Hall Raiders, the second seeded Stillwater Ponies and the third seeded Woodbury Royals vying for a trip to downtown Minneapolis.  This season, the Raiders and Ponies split their season series.  Could a rubber game be in the works in the section final?

So far, it's been an outstanding year for girls sports at Centennial.  First, the girls hockey team led by Gabbie Hughes and Anneke Linser lost by one goal to the Edina Hornets.  Second, the Cougar girls basketball team has the number one seed in Section 5.  Jill Becken's bunch has not lost a game since they lost to the Roseville Raiders December 30.  They might have to battle for the third time this season the second seeded Champlin Park Rebels.  The two teams split their season series.  Don't count out the third seeded Roseville Raiders and the fourth seeded Park Center Pirates.

The good news for the Hopkins Royals is that Paige Bueckers is healthy and the Royals are the number one seed.  The bad news is the second seeded Wayzata Trojans are a threat to keep Brian Cosgriff's team from returning to Target Center.  When Bueckers was sidelined, the Trojans were the state's number one team in Class AAAA.  Looking to end any hopes of an all Lake Conference final are the third seeded Mpls. South Tigers and an upcoming young team in the fourth seeded St. Louis Park Orioles.

Up north to Section 7 where another two team race is likely with the top seeded Anoka Tornadoes and the second seeded Forest Lake Rangers.  A rematch could be possible since the two schools met on December 1 with Anoka emerging victorious 58-52.

There will likely be a new state champion in Class AAAA because the Elk River Elks have the number seven seed and go up against the second seeded Maple Grove Crimson.  Who's the number one seed?  It's the St. Michael-Albertville Knights, who have won 12 straight games.  This season, the Knights beat the Crimson in their tournament December 28. There are three 17-9 teams that could contend.  The third seeded Moorhead Spuds, the fourth seeded Brainerd Warriors and the fifth seeded Buffalo Bison.

Next up,the eight Class AAA sections.

Edina Hornets-Winners and Once Again Class AA State Champions

Saturday night was a busy night for Edina high school hockey.  In Bloomington, the boys team was playing the St. Louis Park Orioles in the Section 6AA semifinals and at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul Aliyah Lance scored the game winning goal 2:39 into the third period to lead the Hornets to a 2-1 win over the Centennial Cougars in the Class AA championship game.

It was the second consecutive Class AA title for Edina in their eight state tournament appearance.

Just like the preceding Class A championship game, neither team activated the red light in the first period.  In the second period, Emily Oden, who will play next season at Minnesota, got a pass from Lolita Fidler at the left point and fired it into the net for her 33rd goal of the season o give the Hornets the lead.  The Cougars would tie the game as Hannah Backman passed to Gabbie Hughes and she skated into the left face off circle, went into the left slot and put it past Edina goalie Megan Smith.

The game winner came in the third period while Maija Almich was serving a two minute minor penalty for body checking.  It was Fidler and Mallory Uehlein who set up Lance game winner when she got the puck, cut to the right slot and went top shelf for the lead that would turn out to clinch the Class AA title.  Lance almost got her second goal late in the game after Centennial head coach Kristina King pulled goalie Mackenna Stoterau for a sixth attacker with 1:26 left in regulation.  Lance fired a shot that clanked off the post.

In the third place game, Taylor Anderson got the hat trick to lead the Eagan Wildcats to a 3-0 win over the Eden Prairie Eagles.  In the consolation championship game at Ridder Arena on the University of Minnesota campus, Jamie Nelso's goal with 4:40 left in the third overtime led the Andover Huskies to a 5-4 victory over the Lakeville South Cougars.

Centennial's Anneke Linser was the Class AA recipient of the Herb Brooks Award which goes to a player who best exhibits the characteristics and traits of the late coach.  Linser will join Hughes next season at Minnesota-Duluth.

Breck Mustangs Win Class A Title in Overtime

Eight was great for the Breck Mustangs.

Freshman Sadie Lindsay, wearing number eight, scored the game winning goal :08 into overtime to lead the Breck Mustangs to a 3-2 win over the Warroad Warriors in the Class A championship game Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

It was the second state title and first since 2012 for the Golden Valley based school in their sixth trip to state.

Following a scoreless first period, the Mustangs tallied first in the second when Emily Zumwinkle dug the puck from under the boards and passed to Olivia Mobley on the right side of the crease and scored to put Breck ahead.

The Warriors evened the score in the third period as Hannah Corneliusen fed Kaitlyn Kotlowski on the right point and she would go top shelf.  Breck almost went ahead 2-1 but the replay official ruled that Carly Beniek was in the crease so the goal didn't count.  The Mustangs would eventually go ahead on Mobley's second goal that came off Lindsay's saved shot.  Beniek's interference penalty with :58 left helped Warroad score on the power play.  Kotlowski's shot ricocheted off the boards, Marlie Johnston got into position on the right of seventh grade goalie Uma Cormiea and put it in the net with :27 left to send the game into overtime.

Heading into overtime, right off the face off, Gabby Billing's wraparound shot was saved by Quinn Kuntz but Lindsay came in and found an open spot to bring the championship trophy to Breck's Golden Valley campus.

In the third place game, Kaci Trosvig scored the game's only goal in the second period to lead the Alexandria Cardinals to a 1-0 win over the Proctor/Hermantown Mirage.  Over at Ridder Arena on the University of Minnesota campus,  Jenna Hoops power play goal :42 into overtime led St. Paul United to a 3-2 win over the Red Wing Wingers in the consolation championship game.

Ali Beltz of New Ulm was the Class A recipient of the Herb Brooks Award, which is presented to a player that best displays the characteristics and traits of the late coach.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

2018 State Girls Hockey Championship Preview

Despite the large amount of snow that's expected to fall in St. Paul, there's plenty of girls hockey action Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center.  Here's a preview of the two championship games.

The Class A final at 4 PM features the second seeded Breck Mustangs and the top seeded Warroad Warriors.  Both teams are looking to end long championship droughts.  Breck's last state title came in 2012 when they beat the South St. Paul Packers in double overtime and Warroad preceded them with Class A titles in 2010 and 2011.  The two teams met on November 24 with Warroad beating Breck 4-2.

The Mustangs began their championship road with a 9-2 win over the Marshall Tigers in the quarterfinals.  Carly Beniek and former St. Louis Park Oriole Olivia Mobley scored two goals apiece as Breck scored five second period goals to put the Tigers away.  They clinched a championship berth with a 6-0 shut out of the Proctor/Hermantown Mirage.  Emily Zumwinkle tallied twice for the Mustangs as they recored their fifth shut out of the season.

Now a look at the Warriors.  In two games, Warroad has outscored their opponents 12-1.  Sophomore Hannah Corneliusen scored two goals to help Warroad score their 13th shut out this season 5-0.   Corneliusen, Genevieve Hendrickson and Kaitlyn Kotlowski scored two goals apiece to lead the Warriors to a 7-1 win over the Alexandria Cardinals in the semifinals.  Warroad is a young, solid team with only two seniors and looks like a team that can return to the X the next couple of years.

After the Class A medals and trophies have been presented, the Class AA championship game takes the spotlight at 7 PM.  The second seeded Centennial Cougars, playing in their first state tournament since 2008 battle the top seeded and defending Class AA champion Edina Hornets.  Centennial won "The Battle of the Cougars" in the quarterfinals as they recorded a 2-0 shut out against Lakeville South.  Alison Pitlick and Anneke Linser scored for Centennial.  The Cougars would get four goals from Ms. Hockey finalist Gabby Hughes to rout the surprising Eagan Wildcats 6-1.  Eagan upset Hill-Murray in the quarterfinals 2-1.  As for Hughes, she will join Linser next season at Minnesota-Duluth.  It will be a rematch of the December 22 game against the Hornets when they held off Edina 3-2.  As for the Hornets, they used scoring balance in the quarterfinals with four players scoring one goal apiece to shut out the Brainerd/Little Falls Flying Warriors 4-0.  Edina would break a 1-1 tie with three third period goals, including an empty netter from CC Bowlby with :03 left to play to beat their Lake Conference rivals the Eden Prairie Eagles 4-2.  It was the second win in three games over Eden Prairie this season.  The Eagles beat the Hornets 4-3 in overtime on January 13.

If you plan on driving to St. Paul, you'll make it OK for the start of Championship Saturday.  But after the Class AA final, be careful out there.  It's going to be messy but an exciting day of Minnesota girls high school hockey.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Liberty Classical Academy Lions Routs Groves Academy Griffins

Ben Horn hit the high note Friday night, scoring a game high 31 points to lead the Liberty Classical Academy Lions to a 67-41 win over the Groves Academy Griffins on Senior Night in St. Louis Park.

It took a while for the scoring to begin but Horn would open the scoring for the Lions 1:25 into the first half.  Malik Bodden would tie the game for the Griffins.  Noah Nelson would hit the first of his four first half three pointers to spark a 5-0 run.  Bilcik would end the run with four straight points.  Nelson would score his only two point basket of the game, followed by a pair of free throws from Horn.  Max Greseth, one of two seniors to be honored along with Bodden displayed some outstanding defense as he blocked Peter Klarr's shot.  Foul trouble would plague Groves Academy when Bodden picked up his third foul with 6:57 left in the first half and Bilcik would also pick up foul number three with 1:30 to go.  Liberty Classical Academy would go for one shot and they would end the half on Nelson's fourth shot from Lake St.  The Lions led 29-16 at halftime.

The second half began just like the first with Horn and Bodden scoring first for both the Lions and the Griffins.  But Bodden would pick up his fourth foul 2:16 into the second half but the was a bright spot for Groves Academy as Nick Maiers hit three three pointers.  But it the night for Horn as he would go on a stretch of seven consecutive points.  Things would begin to unravel for the Griffins when Bodden picked up his fifth foul and also a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct that sent Horn to the line and he also score four straight points.  Greseth was assessed a technical foul at the free throw lane, giving the Lions more free throws that would put the game away.

Oher players for Liberty Classical Academy in double figures were Nelson with 17 points.  Ryan Grill added 11.  Bodden led Groves Academy with 10 points.

The Lions improve their record to 12-9 and the Griffins fell to 9-13.  Both teams will compete in the Twin Cities Athletic Conference tournament next week.  Liberty Classical Academy will host the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf Trojans on Monday, February 26 at 6 PM.  Groves Academy will head to northeast Minneapolis to face the Learning for Leadership Mustangs on Tuesday, February 27, also a 6 PM start.