More than winning state championships, athletes and teams from the north and east metro achieved perfection during the winter tournaments.
Led by Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year Gabi Haack, the Elk River girls’ basketball team (32-0) edged previously unbeaten Hopkins 64-60 for the Class 4A state title. Haack led her team with 25 points. Danielle Lachmiller scored 17 points, including a crucial free throw with 3.1 seconds left to give the Elks a four-point lead. Sidney Wentland added 16 points. “Pure happiness,” Lachmiller said of her program’s historic season. “Just pure joy.”
Two wrestlers know the feeling. Stillwater eighth-grader Reid Ballantyne won the Class 3A state title at 106 pounds to cap a 45-0 season. At 138 pounds, Anoka junior Tyler Eischens put a bow on his 46-0 campaign with a championship.
Near-perfect individual efforts pushed Champlin Park’s Chaney Neu and Mahtomedi’s Kasey Lenarz to gymnastics glory.
Neu, an eighth-grader, grabbed the Class 2A titles in vault, floor exercise and all-around. The 13-year-old Neu became the youngest gymnast in state history to win an all-around championship. The meet was one of the deepest in recent memory. As many as eight gymnasts were still in the hunt for the all-around title after six of the eight rotations. Just six-tenths of a point separated the top six all-around gymnasts.
Lenarz, a senior, wasted no time setting the tone for her meet. She led off the day’s vaulting competition with a 9.825, a score that stood atop the standings from start to finish. She followed with a meet-winning 9.55 on balance beam. Her all-around score was just .15 shy of the Class 1A state meet record.
Near-misses were painful for other teams. The Blaine girls’ hockey team reached the Class 2A title game but fell 4-0 to Edina.
On the mat, Anoka took wrestling power Apple Valley to hell and back in a close 30-24 loss in the championship match. It was Apple Valley’s 12th consecutive title.
“It hurts,” Tornadoes coach Todd Springer said. “Probably the biggest scare Apple Valley has had in years. We had them on the ropes.”
And then there was the Champlin Park boys’ basketball team. The Rebels led 49-44 with 5 minutes, 59 seconds left in the Class 4A championship game. They appeared poised to bring home the first team championship in the school’s 25-year history.
But nemesis Apple Valley ended their bid for perfection for the second time in the past three seasons. Daze and disbelief kept stellar senior forward Theo John on the court for several moments after his teammates left for the locker room.
Still, Champlin Park guard McKinley Wright earned Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year honors and Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball Award. Wright led the Rebels to a 31-1 record, averaging 22.8 points, eight rebounds and 7.4 assists per game.
Maple Grove, which lost both of its boys’ hockey tournament games, also got a lift from good postseason news. Senior forward Sam Huff committed to the Gophers.
Joy and pain. The winter tournaments offered their share of both emotions.