Title IX’s influence was just blooming when Janet Karvonen was the dominant figure on any basketball court she stepped on in the 1970s. By the time Emily Covert and Kennedi Orr and Chaney Neu recently smashed Minnesota high school records, Title IX had shaped everything about their sporting lives.
So much has changed in the 50 years of Title IX, and yet here’s one constant: Minnesota girls wowing us with their athletic ability and achievements. In celebration of the 50th anniversary this month of Title IX, the Star Tribune produced this collection of the 50 most memorable Minnesota girl athletes of the Title IX era, focused tightly on high school accomplishments. Star Tribune prep sports reporter Jim Paulsen took on the challenge of creating this list — no easy exercise — and a team of editors and writers wrestled with it until we landed on a final 50.
We created this collection in the spirit of celebration and discussion. You may read this and find two things or 22 things you disagree with. We are happy to hear your reactions and will print some of them this week. Our goal is debating and discussing and putting tremendous girl athletes in the spotlight this month to celebrate a half-century of better sports opportunities for female athletes.
Without further delay, our list of the 50 most memorable girls to have played high school sports in Minnesota during the first 50 years of Title IX:
A six-year adapted sports stalwart, Nickell led the Robins to nine state championships in three sports in a stretch ending in 2011 and became the first player to tally more than 100 goals in adapted soccer. Longtime coach Marcus Onsum called her “easily one of the best female athletes I have coached.”
Few brought as much swagger and panache to the court as the south metro sharpshooter. A floor general in her high school days, her all-around play helped the Panthers to the 2010 Class 4A title. She was the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year in 2010 and 2011.
Easily the most heralded high school player to come out of Minnesota. In high school, Paige “Buckets” scored 2,877 points and led the Royals to four straight Class 4A title games, finally winning it all in 2019. She won three gold medals in international competition and was a unanimous All-America and National Player of the Year following her senior season.
Hailing from a hoops-crazy family in a central Minnesota basketball hotbed, Dahlman generated offense from seemingly anywhere on the court. She obliterated the state career scoring record, becoming in 2013 (and still remaining) the only girl to top 5,000 points, finishing with 5,060.
A dynamic offensive player, Hill scored 3,888 career points, which was the girls’ state record for four seasons until broken by Braham’s Rebekah Dahlman in 2012. Hill paced South to four state tournament appearances and the 2009 Class 4A championship in five seasons.
New York Mills
The Queen Mother of girls’ basketball in Minnesota. A terrific shooter with a deadly pull-up jumper, Karvonen was the first 3,000-point scorer and led New York Mills to three straight Class 1A championships, 1977-79.
Another in the string of girl superstars who put up big numbers in the pre-three-pointer era. Konerza scored 2,715 career points and held the record for points in a game (58, in 1982) for 36 years until it was broken by Prior Lake’s McKenna Hofschild, who scored 63 in 2018.
The Rochester twins were bookends in the Spartans’ run of two state championships in three years, 1995 (Class 2A) and 1997 (Class 4A). So symmetrical were they that their career point totals are within a few points: Kelly with 2,151, Coco with 2,113.
As a senior, Moore was the most accomplished player in Minnesota. She led North to its first girls’ basketball state title in 1998, won the Miss Basketball award and was named a WBCA Coaches’ All-America. Now the head coach at Mesabi Range College, she’s the first woman in college basketball history to coach a men’s team.
She first made a splash as a basketball player, scoring 2,323 career points and helping Lakeville to state titles in 2001 and 2002. Her athleticism carried over into track and field, where she won four shot put titles and two discus titles in Class 2A.
A tough-as-nails guard, she led Albany to four straight Class 1A state tournament appearances and the 1980 state title. She scored 2,704 career points. She also won the Class 1A individual golf championship in 1981.
When she got rolling, Wagner scored points in bunches. She broke the state tournament records for points in a game and total points in a three-game tournament three years in a row. Behind Wagner, the Panthers won Class 2A titles in 2013 and 2014.
As a senior in 2018, Covert took the MSHSL girls’ Class 2A cross-country meet to another level, winning her second title in a row in a record 5K time of 17:03.4, more than 25 seconds better than any girl before or since. She also set the state record at 3,200 meters with a time of 10:06.29.
A tenacious distance runner, the future two-time Olympian (she was Kara Goucher by then) won four state championships — three in track and field and the 1993 Class 2A cross-country title — and if not for timing she may have had more. At least three times, she finished behind other members of this list, Carrie Tollefson and Barb Jones.
A three-time Class 3A cross-country champion from 2003-05, she became the first runner to cover the 4K course that was used then in under 14 minutes. She was also a five-time champ at the track and field state meet, winning the Class 2A 1,600 three times and the 3,200 twice. She still holds the meet record in the 1,600 at 4:46.14.
The first MSHSL-sanctioned girls’ golf tournament took place in 1977. Two years later, Rosenthal began her run as the first three-time state champion, winning 2A titles in 1979, ’80 and ’81.
Smith became the most successful girls’ golfer in MSHSL history by winning five consecutive Class 2A individual championships from 2012 to 2016. She shared the title once, in 2013, with teammate Natalie Roth.
DuPay was at her best on the biggest stages. She won eight individual event titles and three consecutive Class 2A all-around championships at the gymnastics state meet. She was equally successful on the diving board, winning Class 1A championships from 2011 through 2013.
A knee injury cut short what was on pace to be the greatest high school gymnastics career in state history. She won seven individual event titles and three straight Class 2A all-around championships by the time she was a sophomore. She scored the first perfect 10 in state meet history on the vault in 2019.
With a strong family hockey background, it’s easy to call the smooth-skating, hard-nosed Brodt the flag-bearer for the boom in girls’ hockey that followed her. She led Roseville to the 1995-96 state title, amassing 61 goals and 123 points, earning her the first Minnesota Ms. Hockey award.
Two years younger than sister Ronda, Renee had a knack for scoring goals. She scored five goals in two games as a seventh-grader in leading the Raiders to the 1996 state title. She was Ms. Hockey in 2001 and is the state’s career scoring leader for boys and girls with 544 points.
A linchpin for the first dynasty program in the early days of girls’ hockey. A smooth skater, tall and intuitive, she helped the Raiders to two state championships, third place and consolation titles in a four-year stretch and was named Ms. Hockey in 1999.
The most talented girls’ hockey player the state has produced. Led Eagan to a runner-up state tournament finish as a seventh-grader. She amassed a whopping 487 points before leaving high school in 2000 for the U.S. national program after her sophomore season.
Marvin would have stood tall in girls’ hockey even without being a member of one of Minnesota’s most respected hockey families. She was a three-time All-State selection and was selected Ms. Hockey in 2005 after a season of 55 goals and 112 points. She finished her high school career with 196 goals and 425 points.
A natural, instinctive athlete who developed playing on boys’ teams. She parlayed that training into a record-setting high school career with 335 points in just 62 games, including 100 goals in 2000-01 that still stands as the single-season state record for boys or girls. Park Center won the state championship that season.
The drive and talent that led to Olympic gold was evident in Diggins’ time as a high school skier. She won three individual pursuit championships in four years from 2007 through 2010 and likely would have made it four but missed the 2009 meet because she was competing in, and winning, the U.S. National Sprint championship.
St. Paul Central
Perhaps Minnesota’s best skier at the high school level until Jessie Diggins came along. Dogged and relentless, she parlayed her style into a terrific run in the mid-’90s, when the race was strictly classic style, winning state titles in 1993, 1994 and 1995. Also a track standout, she was runner-up in the Class 2A 1,600 and 3,200 in 1994.
Creative, athletic and tireless — as a freshman, she won the 800 meters in the track and field state meet and finished ninth in the Class 1A cross-country meet — she is arguably the best high school girls’ soccer player Minnesota has produced. She scored 35 goals in leading Mahtomedi to the Class 1A title in 1997 and was a two-time Metro Player of the Year.
An all-around athlete at Anoka whose first love was basketball, she became a high school All-America as a senior goalkeeper in 1989 and backstopped the Tornadoes to a shootout victory in the 1989 state championship game. Her significance is magnified by being a one of the first Black standouts in the girls’ high school game.
An extraordinary hitter who was probably underappreciated as a hitter in high school despite being a two-time All-Metro first-team selection. Was All-State as a senior in 2018. A five-tool shortstop with a strong arm, she hit .500 with five homers and 30 RBI as a senior before going on to become an All-Big Ten selection at Minnesota.
A two-sport standout in softball and girls’ hockey (when the sport was still in its infancy). She went on to play both sports at the University of Minnesota and is still a team record holder as a softball player. She was such a versatile athlete that she even played football for Farmington in her senior year, 1994.
Moulton went 83-13 in high school with 1,142 strikeouts, a 0.35 ERA, 58 shutouts and 13 no-hitters, leading the Wildcats to the 2009 Class 3A state championship. A two-time Metro Player of the Year (2009, 2010), she was Ms. Softball and Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior.
She won five MSHSL state championships in the backstroke and the butterfly and set the national high school record in the backstroke. She also won a bronze medal at the Pan Pacific Games and a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics with the 4x100 medley relay team.
A transplant from Texas just before her freshman year, Phillip rewrote the state high school diving record book. She became the third diver to win four straight state championships, and in her junior year, 2018, she broke the 21-year-old state record held by Jaime Sanger when she scored 517.0 in the finals.
In the 1990s, Sanger set the standard for diving excellence. She became Minnesota’s first four-time diving state champion, winning the single-class meet in 1995 and ’96 and taking the Class 2A crown in ’97 and ’98, becoming the first diver to score higher than 500, 507.0, in 1997.
She set herself apart from other swimmers through sustained excellence in the freestyle events. Between 1978 and 1981, she won four straight championships in the 200 freestyle, three in the 500 and another in the 100, winning eight gold medals overall.
She was a seven-time individual state champion — four titles came in the state meet’s marquee race, the 50 freestyle, in less than 23 seconds — and also won two butterfly state titles and another in the 100 freestyle in a high school career that ended in 2016. She won seven more titles with Edina’s freestyle relay teams.
Just four years after Gina Suh became the first five-time singles champion, Nguyen matched her in 1998, using precise ground strokes with depth, pace and power to win five in a row in Class 2A. Jefferson won three team titles during her reign.
St. Paul Academy
A technician who hit ground strokes like daggers, she became the first five-time singles champion in MSHSL history, winning the Class 1A title every year from 1989 to 1993. Her first title — a three-set victory over Sandy Kim of Breck — made her the first eighth-grader to win an MSHSL singles championship in state history.
If the mark of excellence is winning, then it’s impossible to find a Minnesota athlete who excelled more than Taney. She was 166-0 in her prep career:150-0 in singles, 16-0 in doubles. She won three singles championships, two doubles titles and was the national player of the year in 2007.
TRACK & FIELD
The most accomplished thrower of the discus and shot put in Minnesota high school history. She won the Class 2A discus championship five times and still holds the state record with a throw of 171 feet, 9 inches in 2012. She added four shot put titles and also owns the state record with a throw of 54-8 ½
A 2008 Olympian in the triple jump, Marks won her first and only MSHSL Class 2A track and field individual championship in 1997 when she won the long jump with a leap of 18-4 ¼. She added three more gold medals in that meet by leading three relay teams to victory.
Dawson-Boyd/Lac qui Parle Valley
The former Olympic distance runner (Athens, 2004) first burst onto the scene with a record-setting high school career. She won five cross-country individual championships from 1990-94 (three in Class 1A, two in 2A) and eight distance-running titles at the track and field state meet.
Now better known as the mother of NFL star Odell Beckham Jr., Van Norman was a dominant sprinter in the 1980s. She was a one-person team in leading Windom to back-to-back team titles in 1987 and ’88, winning the 100, 200 and 400 in both years, accounting for 60 of 66 team points.
Often called the best girls’ athlete in state history, she led Moose Lake to five state titles across three sports:volleyball, basketball and softball. In her senior year, 1981-82, all three won state championships with undefeated records.
A setter, she would have been a superstar at any position. A two-time Metro Player of the Year, she set a school record with almost 1,400 career kills. She was a first-team All-America as a senior in 2016.
The 6-foot-tall setter was ranked as the top high school recruit in Minnesota. Learning behind older sister Brie — a superb Division I-level player in her own right — Kennedi was known for two things:her ability to play anywhere and her remarkable composure. She was named Ms. Volleyball in her senior year, 2019, despite missing much of the season with injury.
With an accomplished volleyball coach for a mother, Seliger-Swenson was bound to be a setter from the day she stepped on the court. Few could turn a difficult pass into a perfect set more adeptly. A three-time All-America, she was Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year and Ms. Volleyball in 2014.
Wittman defined what it meant to be a powerful hitter, delivering blistering kills with regularity. She was Metro Player of the Year in 2008 and 2009, racking up 1,036 kills, 543 digs and 87 blocks, and Gatorade National Player of the Year in 2009. Behind her, Shakopee won Class 3A titles from 2007 through 2009.
About this list
With high school sports reporter Jim Paulsen leading the compiling of names and accomplishments for consideration, members of the Star Tribune sports staff selected these 50 athletes after several rounds of voting and discussion as part of our recognition of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
A note for clarity: We limited the scope here to an athlete’s success while competing for Minnesota high school teams. Two notable examples of how this played out: Lindsay Whalen, potentially on your Minnesota Sports Mount Rushmore, isn’t here, because her high school career and prep accomplishments, in our opinion, didn’t rank. And while Suni Lee’s Olympic moment is an all-timer, the St. Paul gymnast isn’t on this list either, as she didn’t compete in prep gymnastics.
Also, we used maiden names, those the athletes were known by in high school, and not married names.
Now it's your turn
We want to know what you think. How did we do? Did we leave off your favorite athlete? Did we overlook some athletes you think should be on the list? Let us know by going to startribune.com/yourpick and sharing your thoughts.
Selected responses from readers will appear in the Star Tribune and on startribune.com/sports later this week.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the number of high school track and field titles won by Carrie Tollefson. She won eight. The article also incorrectly stated the year and location when Tollefson ran in the Olympics. It was 2004 in Athens.