No one does it better

It’s hard not to admire the job Mike Grant and his coaching staff have done with the Eden Prairie football program. Despite heavy losses to graduation from a 2013 team that many, including me, considered to be among the best in state history, the Eagles completed another undefeated season with a heart-stopping 28-27 victory over Totino-Grace in the Class 6A championship game. Eden Prairie trailed by two touchdowns at halftime, rallied behind Will Rains to take a 28-21 lead, then won on a game-saving pass breakup by Matt Carson on a two-point conversion with 1:39 left in the game. Eden Prairie became the first large-school team — and just the third team overall — to win four consecutive championships.

GENERATION OF EXCELLENCE

Every year there are challengers, and every year those challengers fall short in their attempt to unseat Edina from its perch as the Class 2A girls’ tennis state champions. The Hornets won their 18th consecutive state title with a 6-1 victory over Prior Lake in the Class 2A finals. How amazing has Edina’s national-record-setting streak been? Only five members of the 2014 team were born when the streak started and all of them were younger than 1 year old at the time.

Homespun success

For those who wax nostalgic about the lack of championship teams made up of homegrown athletes, we present the Chaska girls’ volleyball team. The Hawks have prided themselves on sticking together through all seasons rather than splitting up and going their separate ways in the eight-month club volleyball season. That dedication paid off in November when they won the Class 3A state championship with a convincing straight-set victory over defending champion Eagan.

Dramatic comeback

All spring, the Eden Prairie girls’ lacrosse team had been considered the best in the state, earning the No. 1 seed in the state tournament. The Eagles’ state championship dreams dangled precariously by a thread as time wound down in the state semifinals, however, as they trailed Stillwater by three goals with 1:30 left in the game. The Eagles pulled off an astonishing rally, getting the game-tying goal when Sara Woodring stripped the Stillwater goalkeeper of the ball and shoveled it into the net with one second left in regulation. They won in overtime 15-14 and went on to win the state championship two days later.

Throwback effort

On May 22, Waconia pitcher Jake Stevenson showed why the University of Minnesota is so high on his abilities. He pitched four innings of hitless relief in a 5-3 victory over Buffalo in the first round of the Class 3A, Section 2 playoffs. He came back a few hours later to throw a seven-inning complete game, defeating Chanhassen — which played Monday for the Class 3A state championship — 1-0, allowing just six hits. In one day, Stevenson pitched 11 innings, threw 173 pitches, struck out 26 batters, gave up just six hits and did not allow a run.

IN PARENTS' FOOTSTEPS

With the last name of Klecker, it was only a matter of time that Joe, a Hopkins senior distance runner, would do something special. The son of Barney Klecker, a Minnesota running legend, and former Olympian Janis Klecker, Joe ran the fastest 3,200 meters by a high schooler in the country at the well-regarded Howard Wood Relays in Sioux Falls, S.D., in April, posting a time of 8:50.1. Klecker, who will run for the University of Colorado, capped off his senior year earlier this month by winning the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races at the Class 2A state track meet. His 1,600-meter time of 4:06.54 was a state-meet record.

Breakout performance

To girls’ basketball aficionados, Hopkins guard Nia Hollie has long been raved about. The rest of Minnesota found out why when the 6-foot-1 junior guard put the Royals on her back and willed them to a 68-60 Class 4A championship-game victory over defending champion Eastview, which featured Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year Maddie Guebert. Hollie had 26 points in the final.

Back where they belong

Orono soccer players Sophie Babo and Carly Goehring spent the fall of 2013 training with the Minnesota Thunder Academy, missing the high school season altogether. That, Goehring said, never felt quite right. “I’d be walking around school and I’d see the team all pumped up for a game, and I felt out of it,” she said. Babo and Goehring returned to the high school team as seniors last fall and led the Spartans to the Class 1A state championship. Babo ended the season with 32 goals and 12 assists and was named Ms. Soccer in Class 1A.

Time off?  No problem

Apparently, taking a year off from wrestling did little to diminish Jordan Joseph’s skills. The St. Michael-Albertville senior won the Class 3A 170-pound championship as a sophomore, then walked away from wrestling to concentrate on his passion for baseball. Joseph returned to the Knights’ wrestling team last winter and completed a one-loss season with another individual state title, this time at 182 pounds. Joseph originally had committed to play baseball at Minnesota, but has since changed his mind and will play football and baseball at Northwestern of Roseville.

Trojan horses

Wayzata reasserted itself as the center of Minnesota’s girls’ endurance-sports universe by winning state cross-country and Nordic skiing team championships for the second consecutive year. Senior Anna French, a vital cog in the Trojans’ championship machine, finished her career with five team championships — three in cross-country and two in Nordic skiing, plus her team’s 2013 national championship in cross-country to boot.

Ablaze in the water

Edina sophomore Rachel Wittmer owned the final day of competition at the Class 2A girls’ swimming state meet. She took home three gold medals and set two state-meet records in the process. She won the 50-yard freestyle in a rout with a time of 22.62 seconds, 0.11 seconds better than the previous record that had stood for seven years. She also won the 100 freestyle and anchored the record-setting 200 freestyle relay team that won in a time of 1:33.80. It was the first time any Minnesota team has finished in a time under 1:34.00.

Jim Paulsen