After her team won the girls’ hockey U-12 state championship with Edina, Madeline Wethington decided a big school wasn’t for her.
Wethington attended Normandale Elementary, a French Immersion school in Edina. She wanted a smaller experience than Edina’s Valley View Middle School after her sixth-grade year.
“I went to a math camp over the summer at Blake, because I wanted to place into a higher math level at Edina, but I ended up loving the math program that they had,” Wethington said. “I ended up getting in the Friday before school started.”
That decision led Wethington into the Blake hockey program. Now a junior defenseman, she and the Bears (22-1-2) have put together a strong year in their first year in Class 2A. Blake reached the Class 1A championship game in each of the past five seasons and won the title four times, including the past two years.
The Bears’ only loss was to Edina, a team that practices about 5 miles from the Blake Ice Arena and competes in the same section. The Hornets, 5-2 victors in that Jan. 20 game, are ranked No. 1 in the state by Let’s Play Hockey and looking to win back-to-back state championships.
“It was so cool for us to know how good we are and defeat a team like that going into the rest of the season, especially the playoffs when we might actually play them,” Edina junior forward C.C. Bowlby said.
Edina is rated No. 1 in the Section 6 bracket while Blake, ranked No. 2 statewide, is the No. 2 seed.
“When you have the two defending state champions in the same section, I think it kind of confuses a lot of people,” Hornets coach Sami Reber said. Section placement is done “off location and this is what worked out. There’s nothing we can do about it,” she said.
Not only has Reber coached in an Edina-Blake game, but she also played in the matchup. Reber, a former captain for the Hornets, said the rivalry has grown since her time as a player.
“When I was playing a few years ago, there weren’t really any Edina kids, at least in my class, that went to Blake,” Reber said. “I think since then, with the association growing and the numbers growing, more kids have gone to Blake.”
Blake has seen familiar opponents in its first year in Class 2A because the Bears used to schedule many of the tougher 2A opponents for regular-season games. One of their victories last season was against Edina.
“My whole team was super excited, because we always played a 2A schedule,” Blake sophomore forward Lily Delianedis said. “It just helped us push ourselves by playing all these great teams.”
While Wethington chose to attend Blake over Edina, she still has connections to the Hornets. She played summer hockey with several of her former U-12 teammates. It’s different in the summer, Wethington said, because you’re not closely associated with your high school.
“Everybody wants to be the best, of course, but you kind of just try to have fun during the summer,” Wethington said. “Everybody pushes each other, because overall that helps build the game.”
Wethington also has future teammates on the Edina team. She has committed to play college hockey for the Gophers, where she will be joined by Hornets forwards Tella Jungels and Emily Oden.
Oden, Bowlby and Wethington played together on the Minnesota Made’s boys’ team growing up. Bowlby said playing in the boys’ league was different.
“It kind of increased … my ability to play hockey,” said Bowlby, who has committed to Dartmouth for college. “Overall, it made me a better hockey player, because it made me stronger emotionally and physically.”
Barring an upset in section play, the Hornets and the Bears are on a collision course to meet in the section final.
Bears coach Shawn Reid said his team isn’t thinking about Edina, though.
“We have games before that,” Reid said. “Those games will be difficult.”
Jack White is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.