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State tournament guide: Prep madness starts before March

  • February 12, 2014 - 6:57 AM

“March” Madness, what a misnomer. Local sports fans know the madness gets loud well before the calendar says March. And around here this year, the action will be going strong right up through April 12, the night of the NCAA Frozen Four final. Two months of March Madness, buckle up. The high school sports blitz brings us many madness highlights every year, and the tournament season opens today, with skiing champions being crowned up north. Many more champions will follow. Here’s your road map to the best story lines.

ron haggstrom, jim paulsen and david la vaque

Alpine and Nordic skiing

A family affair, and a classic finish?

When: Wednesday for Alpine, Thursday for Nordic

Where: Giants Ridge, Biwabik

A possible first: Eagan’s brother-sister combination of Tommy and Sally Anderson could become the first siblings to land on the top spot of the Alpine podium in the same year. Tommy is a sophomore and Sally is a senior. Both finished in the top 10 a year ago.

Sprint to the finish: How fun would this be to see in the girls’ Nordic 10K pursuit race? Seniors Vivian Hett of Burnsville, Mattie Watts of Irondale and Alayna Sonnesyn of Wayzata coming around the final turn in a dead-heat sprint for medalist honors in their final high school race.

 

Girls’ hockey

Big drama before the tournament

When: Feb. 19-22

Where: Xcel Energy Center

Pre-tourney tourney: Four of the top six girls’ teams in Class 2A reside in Section 6: Hopkins, Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Minnetonka and Wayzata. And since there can only be one winner, it’s hockey fans who are losing out on seeing more of the sport’s top players and teams.

Northern exposure: Thursday’s Class 1A, Section 8 championship game between Thief River Falls and East Grand Forks earns the victor its state tournament debut. East Grand Forks knocked out five-time defending section champion Warroad.

Gymnastics

A chance to be among the best ever

When: Feb. 21-22

Where: U of M Sports Pavilion

A case for the best? After winning the Class 2A all-around championship last year, Northfield’s Bailey DuPay, who is also a three-time state diving champion, expressed concern about returning to gymnastics, citing the toll the sport takes on the body. But she came back stronger than ever. If she wins another all-around title, you can throw her name in the hat among the state’s best ever.

Not dead yet: Things looked bleak for perennial power Perham last fall after longtime coach Charlie Fleck, who guided the program to eight consecutive Class 1A titles from 2004 through 2011, was not retained by the school district for undisclosed reasons. But the Yellowjackets, now coached by former state champ and 2010 alumnus Jenna Schmitz, have rebounded and are expected to give favorite Detroit Lakes a battle for the Section 8 title.

Wrestling

Making noise even in national rankings

When: Feb. 27-March 1

Where: Xcel Energy Center

Big names on the big stage: Totino-Grace junior Lance Benick, already a two-time state champion, is the consensus No. 1-ranked prep wrestler in the country at 195 pounds. Others ranked among the top five nationally are St. Michael-Albertville 126-pounder Tommy Thorn, Apple Valley’s 170-pounder Mark Hall, Sibley East 195-pounder Nathan Rose and Kasson-Mantorville heavyweight Sam Stoll.

Up for grabs: Apple Valley is the Class 3A favorite, but the other two classes lack a clear-cut favorite. Simley has been No. 1 in 2A for much of the year but recently has looked vulnerable. Look for Totino-Grace and Foley to make a serious run. In Class 1A, Jackson County Central’s run of four state titles appears in jeopardy. The Huskies fell to sixth in the most recent state rankings.

Boys’ swimming and diving

Two teams looking for the three-peat

When: Feb. 27-March 1

Where: U of M Aquatic Center

Boisterous crowd: The crowd at the Aquatic Center could cause quite a ruckus this year. The races for individual event championships in both classes is as wide open as they have ever been. There is only one returning state champion in each class.

Three-peat: Eden Prairie (Class 2A) and St. Thomas Academy (Class 1A) are both seeking their third consecutive state championship. Eden Prairie finished third in the True Team state meet while St. Thomas Academy garnered the top spot.

Boys’ hockey

Big names will be in the TV booth

When: March 5-8

Where: Xcel Energy Center

Southern surprises: Lakeville North, ranked No. 1, is the undisputed surprise team in Class 2A. The Panthers have been undefeated since mid-December and posted impressive victories against Hill-Murray, Burnsville and Duluth East. But the Cinderella team is less than 20 miles from the Iowa border. Luverne (23-0-1) hopes to cap an undefeated regular season, win Class 1A, Section 3 and advance to its first-ever state tournament.

TV history: Veteran broadcaster Gary Thorne will handle TV play-by-play duties for the Class 2A tournament at Xcel Energy Center. Broadcast partner Lou Nanne will be attending his 50th boys’ hockey state tournament.

Boys’ basketball

Tyus Time again?

When: March 12-15

Where: Target Center, Williams Arena

Packing them in: Apple Valley senior point guard and Duke recruit Tyus Jones is the main reason 13,309 fans — the largest crowd since the advent of four classes in 1997 — watched the Eagles win the big-school title a year ago. It would be only fitting to watch him in the finals one last time.

Fashion statement: Two-time defending Class 3A champ DeLaSalle’s school colors are black and gold. Islanders coach Dave Thorson always patrols the sideline in black from head to toe. If his team goes for its third consecutive title at Target Center, perhaps he could switch to gold, considering it’s an Olympic year.

Girls’ basketball

Carlie The Great

When: March 18-22

Where: Target Center, U of M

Another tourney legend? The girls’ tournament is known for making legends of elite outstate players such as Janet Karvonen, Kelly Skalicky and Rebekah Dahlman. In that vein comes NRHEG’s Carlie Wagner, a scoring machine and U of M recruit who led the Panthers to the Class 2A title last year. Wagner’s instant offense and likable demeanor make her a fan favorite.

New faces at the top: Hopkins and DeLaSalle have owned the two largest classes for the past three years. Continuing their reigns is far from certain. Eastview has knocked Hopkins out of its traditional top spot in Class 4A. Meanwhile, a still-green DeLaSalle team in Class 3A has struggled to remain above .500.

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