At long last, Richfield has its first date at state

  • Article by: JIM PAULSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 13, 2012 - 11:08 PM

The emerging passing skills of scorer Jessica January are only part of the growing excitement.

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Richfield's Bryann Guyton (25)

Photo: Marlin Levison, Dml - Startribune Staff Photo S

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LeeAnn Wise was having the time of her life.

Her ears ringing, her voice hoarse, the principal at Centennial Elementary School in Richfield was trying to arrange transportation for students across the school district on 20 buses. And there was still a pep fest to plan.

It is Wise's second job, as the Richfield girls' basketball coach, that has generated all the hubbub. The Spartans won the Class 3A, Section 6 championship last week, sending them to the state tournament for the first time in team history.

"It's been pretty crazy," Wise said. "The crowd we had at the section final was incredible. I didn't get my hearing back for two days."

State tournament appearances have become humdrum for some schools, but for Richfield this has become a reason for all to celebrate.

"I'm an elementary school principal and all of the kids at my school want to go to the tournament," Wise said. "This is a first for us. Everyone is kind of in awe."

While certainly out of the ordinary, the Spartans are no surprise entrant.

They feature one of the state's top players in ultra-quick junior guard Jessica January and a solid mix of veteran upperclassmen and promising youth. The Spartans expected to be good this year; how good was the question.

"I really didn't know what to expect," January admitted. "I know I didn't expect this."

What January, a 26-points-per-game scorer in 2011, did know was that she would need to become a more well-rounded player for the Spartans to improve. It was a tradeoff she never hesitated to make.

"I knew I needed to be a truer point guard," she said. "I had to give my teammates more opportunities."

January still leads the team, scoring 22 points per game, but Wise points to her passing as an indicator of her growth.

"What impresses me the most is that she's averaging [almost] seven assists per game," Wise said.

The Spartans (25-4) won't have to wait long to get their tournament experience underway. They play Red Wing at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Williams Arena in the first game of the Class 3A bracket.

One thing is certain: The Barn's stands will be filled with Richfield supporters.

"Richfield is a small town in a big city," Wise said. "It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like, they'll support you."

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