St. Paul Academy had heard enough talk.
Many doubted that the Spartans (20-8), who had finished the past three seasons with losing records, were contenders to win Class 2A, Section 4 — let alone the favorites. That title was reserved for defending state champion Minnehaha Academy, despite losing its entire core from last season.
“There were some comments earlier in the year that Minnehaha was going to giggle their way through the section,” St. Paul Academy coach Kevin McKenzie said.
“And then we beat them [in December], and the guys heard a lot of ‘Well, Minnehaha’s young, and you guys are lucky you got them early in the season.’ ”
The Spartans also got them late in the season, by a 73-45 margin in the Section 4 final to earn their first-ever state tournament berth.
The Spartans have won five consecutive games after two blowout losses to two-time defending Class 3A champion DeLaSalle in February.
The losses motivated St. Paul Academy — not because of the margin of victory, but because of some positive reinforcement it received.
McKenzie said DeLaSalle stars Reid Travis and Jarvis Johnson praised two of his players — sophomore Dalante Peyton and junior Abdulsalan Osman — after the second game.
“I looked at the guys and said, ‘There’s no reason we have to lose again,’ ” McKenzie said. “I think they believed that after that weekend.”
The Spartans’ defense has paved the way for their success. They’re 14-0 when holding opponents to fewer than 50 points.
The fifth-seeded Spartans play Caledonia (27-2) in the first round Wednesday.
Charlie Armitz is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.