With the winter sports season having drawn to a close and spring sports still trying to break through the permafrost, let’s pause to bestow West Metro Winter Honors, acknowledging the best boys’ and girls’ teams and a boy and girl athlete of the season.
First, a disclaimer: There is nothing official about this, no awards will be given. The selection process is this writer’s opinion, formed over a highly entertaining season of competition.
Boys finalists: Minnehaha Academy basketball; Delano basketball; Minnetonka hockey; Orono hockey; St. Michael-Albertville wrestling.
Minnetonka and Orono won their first state championships on the biggest prep platform, the hockey state tournament. St. Michael-Albertville became the first outright Class 3A wrestling champion other than Apple Valley since 2005. Delano showed its 11 losses were not a true indicator of a team’s potential and went on to win the Class 3A championship.
But Minnehaha Academy gets the nod. The Redhawks are enviously talented, but what they did en route the Class 2A championship tips the scales in their favor. They went an entire season without a true home court, which was destroyed in an explosion at the school last summer. They played “home games” at different high schools around the metro and practiced where they could find court time. Instead of complaining, they dedicated their season to those who had died or were injured in the blast. “This season was about more than just us,” guard Trent Lockett said.
Girls’ finalists: Edina hockey; Breck hockey; Cooper basketball; Hopkins basketball.
Both Edina and Breck, state championship-winning girls’ hockey teams, are tough to dismiss, but Cooper’s season was special. The Class 3A champion Hawks won the school’s first girls’ team championship in more than 30 years, dating back to the 1985 softball team. They finished 29-2 and weren’t fazed in their first state tournament appearance. Both their losses were to Class 4A powers (Hopkins and Centennial) and they ended the season on a 23-game win streak.
Boys’ finalists: Calvin Wishart, Delano basketball; Patrick McKee, St. Michael-Albertville wrestling; Jalen Suggs, Minnehaha Academy basketball; Sammy Walker, Edina hockey; Jack Dahlgren, Chanhassen swimming.
Wishart averaged nearly 35 points per game in the postseason while Jalen Suggs was clearly the best player in the Class 2A state tournament. Walker is the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year and Minnesota Mr. Hockey winner, while Dahlgren had four first-place finishes and two state records in the Class 2A boys’ swimming state meet.
McKee gets the nod. The senior pulled off a stunning victory at 120 pounds to win the nationally renown “Who’s No. 1” tournament in Pennsylvania in October, then capped his high school career with his third consecutive state championship, finishing 52-0 en route to the Class 3A, 126-pound title.
Girls’ finalists: Paige Bueckers, Hopkins basketball; Becca Divine, Eden Prairie Alpine skiing; Mara McCollor, Wayzata Nordic skiing; Emily Oden, Edina hockey; Madeline Wethington, Blake hockey.
Divine and McCollor are individual state champions in their respective sports. Oden is a senior who led the two-time state champion Hornets in goals while Wethington, a junior, led Team USA to the U18 world championship in January. Both will play at Minnesota.
Bueckers is the choice; she has become the transcendent player in Minnesota girls’ basketball. She’s the first sophomore to be Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year and Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year. She is also the first Minnesota player to top UConn coach Geno Auriemma’s list of recruiting targets.