And just like that, it’s over.
The 2016 winter sports state tournament season — six weeks of happiness, high-drama and heartbreak — is in the rear view mirror.
Before they fade into blurry-around-the-edges memories, here is one man’s take on some of the more notable postseason happenings around the west metro:
Eden Prairie forgotten?
As one of the state’s largest schools, Eden Prairie takes considerable heat when it has athletic success, which is often. Rarely do the Eagles go unnoticed.
On the strength of a girls’ hockey team lineup that made up in depth what it lacked in star power, the Eagles won three consecutive state tournament nail-biters to win the Class 2A hockey championship. They defeated Maple Grove 3-2 on Lauren Oberle’s goal in overtime in the final, a dramatic conclusion that rescued the Eagles after they had surrendered a two-goal, third-period lead.
The victory came amid local hockey hoopla surrounding the NHL Stadium Series, which took place that weekend. By the time those good feelings had drained away, the Eagles’ victory was long since past.
Too bad. It was a terrific postseason run accomplished by a group of girls who bought into a team-first mentality. They deserved better.
McKees do it for dad
In 2014, St. Michael-Albertville’s Mitchell McKee won his first Class 3A wrestling individual state championship with nearly the entire wrestling community pulling for him. His father, Steve, stricken with terminal cancer, had left the hospital where he was being treated to witness his oldest son’s achievement. Steve died later that year.
In February, Mitchell, now a senior, watched as younger brother Patrick, only a sophomore, won the 106-pound title for his first championship. As Patrick strode jubilantly off the mat, Mitchell (who later won his third consecutive state title) embraced his brother in a lengthy hug, memories of dad still fresh in his mind.
“I think I was happier for him than I was for myself,” Mitchell said.
Pride of the North Side
Basketball and Minneapolis North have been synonymous for 40 years, a symbol of pride in an embattled area of the city. But it had been 13 years since North had last played in, and won, a boys’ basketball state tournament, and that legacy had started to fade.
Until this year.
The high-flying Polars raced past and dunked over the Class 1A field to win their first state championship since 2003 and the sixth in team history. They did it with a dominant second half in a 68-45 championship game victory over Goodhue. (“We should have dunked more on them,” Goodhue coach Matt Halverson said, tongue in cheek, after the game.)
Most importantly, the team revived days of past years when the North gym was full on game nights and fans had something to brag about.
“These guys were 5 years old the last time North won a championship,” Polars coach Larry McKenzie said. “When I started here in 2013, this school only had 68 kids. We’re building something here, brick by brick. That was the first brick.”
Tonka … finally
For the seven seniors on the Minnetonka girls’ basketball team — Hannah Hedstrom, Grace Allen, Courtney Fredrickson, Lizzie Odegard, Laura Hamilton, Maddy Fransen and Elena Strom — it was starting to look like they might never be able to display their considerable talents on a state tournament stage. For three consecutive years, the Skippers had lost in the section championship game.
They finally earned their chance with a 61-57 victory over Shakopee in the Class 4A, Section 2 final.
They didn’t waste their opportunity, either. The Skippers won the Class 4A state championship in just their second tournament appearance — the first came in 1999. What’s more, they did with a 61-52 victory over archrival Hopkins in the championship game.
“To have this group that has played together since they were fourth-graders — they went undefeated as a fourth-grade traveling team and won the state title — make their way all the way here, through numerous obstacles, I’m so impressed,” Minnetonka coach Leah Dasovich said. “This is a phenomenal victory, not only for our team and these girls, but for our community.”