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From Way Up North, North Woods Is Back At State
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/22/2018 8:33:43 PM

One of my winter excursions took me way up north for a boys basketball game at North Woods school, which is a few miles northwest of Cook in the sprawling wilderness of St. Louis County. The Grizzlies were one of the stars of the state tournament last year, qualifying for the big show for the first time and advancing to the Class 1A state championship game before falling short against Minneapolis North.

North Woods is no short hike from the Twin Cities; it’s much closer to the Canadian border (73 miles) than downtown Minneapolis (232 miles). The Grizzlies defeated International Falls on the night I spent in their spectacular, brightly-lit gym. One of the issues all season was keeping their fans calm, fans who were absolutely sure that the team – with four starters back – would return to state.

“The expectations are so high, it’s unbelievable,” coach Will Kleppe (pictured) told me that night. “It’s been kind of surprising, all the talk of getting back to where we were.”

Current junior Cade Goggleye became a star one year ago when he made a half-court shot at the buzzer to beat Central Minnesota Christian in the quarterfinals at Williams Arena. When I spoke with Cade on that bitter February night in the North Woods gym, he said the players felt like they were underdogs, just as they had during the 2016-17 season.

“We don’t feel pressure because we think we’re still the underdog, because we’re from up north,” he said after the win over International Falls. “We’ve just got to get down there and play hard again.”

Down here they are, defeating Heritage Christian 74-36 Thursday in the 1A quarterfinals at Williams Arena. The Grizzlies will face Cass Lake-Bena in Friday afternoon’s semifinals at Target Center. The Panthers advanced with a 63-61 double-overtime win over Rushford-Peterson.

Goggleye had a game-high 23 points Thursday, making eight of 11 shots (four of six from three-point range) and picking up eight assists. After the game, Kleppe made a reference to Cade’s comments in mid-February.

“I think Cade summed it best up earlier this season,” the coach said. “We still felt like underdogs through this season, knowing when we get down here there are not a lot of representatives from the north. So we still feel like we kind of have that role. Even with the expectations; we haven’t played a game this year without people saying, ‘You’re going back to state.’ That’s never a guarantee and I believe the boys believed firmly that there was a lot of work to be done to get a chance to come back here.”

--Cass Lake-Bena’s quarterfinal victory came after Rushford-Peterson forced the first and second overtimes on last-second shots. Payton Hahn hit a three-pointer as regulation ended and Ben Ansell scored on a rebound as the horn sounded to end the first overtime.

--There are no unbeaten teams in the tournament, and three teams with just one loss; all three are in Class 1A, which will make for some interesting semifinal games. Top-seeded Mayer Lutheran (28-3) will meet fourth-seeded Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (31-1) and second-seeded North Woods (30-1) will face No. 3 seed Cass Lake-Bena (30-1).

Fashion, Part II

Following up on yesterday’s story about well-dressed Hermantown coach Andy Fenske, let’s talk about shoes. Specifically, the shoes worn by Mayer Lutheran coach Patrick Buchanan.

They are black and red, which also happen to be Crusaders school colors. Buchanan, in his first year coaching at Mayer Lutheran, last wore the shoes at his wedding. Yes, his wedding. On that day four and a half years ago when he married Staci, he also wore a black suit with a red vest and red tie.

After the Crusaders defeated Springfield in last week’s Section 2 championship game, Buchanan pulled the shoes out of a bag and told the players he was going to wear them at state.

“They think they’re cool. They like them,” he said. “They had asked me right away, ‘Coach what’s your favorite color?’ and I said you may not believe this but it is red. So this was my proof in the pudding, my red and black shoes.

“Four and a half years ago I got these bad boys, and I wore them on the happiest day of my life. And right now, this is a joy for me to be with these young men.”

Tournament Tidbits

--Streaks are made to be broken, and DeLaSalle’s run of six consecutive Class 3A state championship came to an end Thursday when the Islanders lost to Columbia Heights 71-69 in the semifinals at Target Center. At state a year ago, DeLaSalle defeated the Highlanders 86-60 in the semifinals. And during Tri-Metro Conference play this season, the Islanders beat Columbia Heights by 36 and 15 points. The Highlanders will meet Delano in Saturday’s 5 p.m. championship game.

--Delano is the surprise team of the tournament, coming in unseeded with an 18-11 record and knocking off third seed Mankato East 79-64 in the quarterfinals and No. 2 seed Austin 80-68 in Thursday’s semifinals.

--Quote of the day: Heritage Christian Academy came to state with a record of 13-17 before losing to North Woods. Afterwards, Heritage coach Tim Herman said, “The last Cinderella has died. So go get ‘em North Woods.”

--There was news on the girls basketball front Thursday when Minnehaha Academy head coach Josh Thurow stepped down after 14 years. He coached 11 teams to state tournaments, including the 2010 2A state champs and the 2011 runner-up team. Minnehaha Academy alum Matt Pryor, who has been the head coach at Concordia Academy for last four years, is the new Redhawks coach.

Boys State Basketball Tournament

Class 1A

Mayer Lutheran 71, Mahnomen/Waubun 40
Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 87, Hinckley-Finlayson 70
North Woods 74, Heritage Christian 36
Cass Lake-Bena 63, Rushford-Peterson 61 (2 OT)

Friday’s semifinals at Target Center
Noon: Mayer Lutheran vs. Russell-Tyler-Ruthton
2 p.m.: North Woods vs. Cass Lake-Bena

Class 2A
Minnehaha Academy 65, Jordan 45
St. Cloud Cathedral 64, Esko 60 (3OT)
Brooklyn Center 63, Breckenridge 48
Caledonia 80, Minnewaska 41

Friday’s semifinals at Target Center
6 p.m.: Minnehaha Academy vs. St. Cloud Cathedral
8 p.m.: Brooklyn Center vs. Caledonia

Class 3A
Columbia Heights 75, St. Thomas Academy 62
Austin 64, Sauk Rapids-Rice 55
Delano 79, Mankato East 64

Columbia Heights 71, DeLaSalle 71-69
Delano 80, Austin 68

Saturday’s championship game
5 p.m. at Target Center
Columbia Heights vs. Delano

Class 4A
Cretin-Derham Hall 70, Wayzata 48
Eden Prairie 65, Osseo 38
Apple Valley 67, Forest Lake 60
Lakeville North 89, Maple Grove 71

Cretin-Derham Hall 60, Eden Prairie 56
Apple Valley 58, Lakeville North 45

Saturday’s championship game
8 p.m. at Target Center
Cretin-Derham Hall vs. Apple Valley

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Hermantown Hawks Coach Dresses For Success
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/21/2018 8:28:25 PM

When I walked into Williams Arena on Wednesday morning for a day of boys state basketball tournament games, one of the first people I saw was Hermantown head coach Andy Fenske.

Three years ago, Fenske was the coach of the girls basketball team from Princeton High School when the Tigers made the school’s first trip to that state tournament. Princeton was a one-and-done team that year, falling to Marshall (Fenske’s alma mater) in the Class 3A quarterfinals.

Andy was very well-dressed during the 2015 tournament. In fact, I Tweeted a photo of him during that game against Marshall, when he wore a sharp three-piece suit and striped tie. When we met Wednesday morning, it was clear that he still knew how to dress well. He was in a dark three-piece suit, including a bow tie and a pocket square (pictured). During the Hawks’ game with DeLaSalle, I Tweeted photographic evidence with these words: “Hermantown coach Andy Fenske takes a commanding early lead in Best-Dressed Coach in the State Tournament contest.”

Of course, being dressed well doesn’t necessarily translate to coming out ahead on the court, and top-seeded DeLaSalle advanced to the semifinals with a 90-63 win over the Hawks. The postgame news conference focused on things that matter.

“We obviously don’t have a team of that caliber up in the northland,” Fenske said. “There’s a reason DeLaSalle is a six-time defending champ. They’re always geared up, ready to go. And our boys came out hot out of the gate. We came out like we wanted to. We weren’t able to withstand their runs and everything else that they threw at us.”

The coach talked about an up-and-down season that brought the Hawks to state, for the second time in history, with a record of 14-15. And he said he hoped that getting to state would provide inspiration.

“I’m proud of these boys,” he said. “They came out and battled, they competed, they did everything they could. Hopefully it’s a good experience for our younger boys, that we’ve got to get back. This is the level where we’ve got to be. If we want to be competing with the best, we have to be ready to play at this level.”

Fenske is a coaching rarity, having brought both girls and boys teams to state. And he knows how fortunate he is.

“There are coaches greater than I who will never have the opportunity to be here once, let alone twice,” he said. “It’s no different (from girls to boys), though. You get on the big stage and the kids are in awe a little bit. … it’s always a special moment. There’s never a dull time to be able to to be coaching this late. I guess the biggest difference, thinking back on it, is we have a consolation bracket this time around so we get to have least one more game.”

That’s true. The Hawks will meet St. Thomas Academy in Thursday’s consolation bracket at Concordia University in St. Paul, with the winner playing for fifth place on Friday.

The final question of the news conference concerned Andy’s attire. What was the motivation for the formal look?

“That goes back to 2015 when I got a nice Tweet from Mr. Millea commenting on my apparel,” he said with a smile. “So I had to step it up a little bit more for this one. As a coaching staff we always dress to impress. If the college coaches dress up for all the big games, why shouldn’t we? While this isn’t quite the end of the road yet, we wanted to make sure if we were going to go down, we were going to go down swinging, and go down in style, too.”

Tournament Tidbits

--With one exception, higher-seeded teams came out on top in Wednesday’s Class 3A and 4A state quarterfinal games. In 3A, No. 1 seed DeLaSalle topped Hermantown, No. 2 seed Austin beat Sauk Rapids-Rice 64-55, unseeded Delano beat No. 3 seed Mankato East 79-64 and No. 4 seed Columbia Heights beat No. 5 seed St. Thomas Academy 75-62.

In 4A, top seed Cretin-Derham Hall beat Wayzata 70-48, No. 2 seed Apple Valley beat Forest Lake 67-60, No. 3 seed Lakeville North beat Maple Grove 89-71 and No. 4 seed Eden Prairie beat Osso 65-38.

--DeLaSalle, six-time defending champion in 3A, and Columbia Heights will meet in Thursday’s semifinals at Target Center. Both teams are in the Tri-Metro Conference, and DeLaSalle won their two regular-season meetings by scores of 94-58 and 82-67.

“I’ve nicknamed them The Machine because they continue to reload,” Columbia Heights coach Willie Braziel said of the Islanders. “They are a very disciplined basketball team, they play defense a lot like us. And they have some very intelligent basketball players. For us, we have to raise to their level of play. … DeLaSalle is a very, very good basketball team and an outstanding program. The rest of us strive to be that.”

--During last week’s girls state basketball tournament, I wrote about an official named Josh Lamppa who worked a game at Target Center, marking his fifth time at a state tournament. He’s the guy who played at the boys state basketball tournament for Bigfork in 1994 and coached the Nashwauk-Keewatin boys basketball team at the state tournament in 2004, giving him the player/coach/official trifecta.

Josh is one three dedicated officials named Lamppa who live on the Iron Range. His brother Davis also worked a game at the girls state tournament, and their cousin Kyle was on the court at Williams Arena for a boys game on Wednesday.

--Kudos to the fans from Sauk Rapids-Rice, especially the students, for exhibiting superior sportsmanship during the Storm’s game with Austin on Wednesday. As I posted on Twitter: “The student section from Sauk Rapids-Rice is absolutely sensational. Everybody standing the whole game, cheering loudly for their team, everything is positive and fun. How it should be done. Great job Storm.”

Boys State Basketball Tournament

Class 1A

Thursday’s quarterfinals at Williams Arena
11 a.m.: Mahnomen/Waubun vs. #1 Mayer Lutheran
1 p.m.: #5 Hinckley-Finlayson vs. #4 Russell-Tyler-Ruthton
3 p.m.: Heritage Christian vs. #2 North Woods
5 p.m.: Rushford-Peterson vs. #3 Cass Lake-Bena

Class 2A
Wednesday’s quarterfinals at Target Center
Minnehaha Academy 65, Jordan 45
St. Cloud Cathedral 64, Esko 60 (3OT)
Wednesday’s quarterfinals at Williams Arena
Brooklyn Center 63, Breckenridge 48
Caledonia 80, Minnewaska 41

Friday’s semifinals at Target Center
6 p.m.: Minnehaha Academy vs. St. Cloud Cathedral
8 p.m.: Brooklyn Center vs. Caledonia

Class 3A
Wednesday’s quarterfinals at Williams Arena
DeLaSalle 90, Hermantown 63
Columbia Heights 75, St. Thomas Academy 62
Austin 64, Sauk Rapids-Rice 55
Delano 79, Mankato East 64

Thursday’s semifinals at Target Center
Noon: DeLaSalle vs. Columbia Heights
2 p.m.: Austin vs. Delano

Class 4A
Wednesday at Target Center
Cretin-Derham Hall 70, Wayzata 48
Eden Prairie 65, Osseo 38
Apple Valley 67, Forest Lake 60
Lakeville North 89, Maple Grove 71

Thursday’s semifinals at Target Center
6 p.m.: Cretin-Derham Hall vs. Eden Prairie
8 p.m.: Apple Valley vs. Lakeville North

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

The Team? The Experience? It’s Everything
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/17/2018 11:44:28 PM

This weekend was remarkable for several reasons, most of them – but not all of them -- having to do with high school girls basketball in Minnesota. Let’s start, however, with what took place Friday evening far away in Charlotte, North Carolina.

That’s where the University of Virginia, a top seed in the NCAA men’s tournament, lost by 20 points to No. 16 seed Maryland-Baltimore County, becoming the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed in the tournament. Virginia coach Tony Bennett said all the right things afterwards…

“I told the guys, this is life. It can’t define you. You enjoyed the good times and you gotta be able to take the bad times. When you step into the arena, the consequences can be historic losses, tough losses, great wins, and you have to deal with it. That’s the job.”

Now, let’s delve into what took place Saturday at Target Center, where the MSHSL girls basketball state championship games were held. One possible headline could read like this: “Three Teams Win First State Titles.” Indeed, Lyle-Pacelli in Class 1A, Sauk Centre in 2A and Cooper in 3A took home first-place hardware for the first time. In Class 4A, Eastview added to its previous championship collection.

The games are televised and everyone sees what happens on the court in the big NBA arena. Behind the scenes are quieter moments, and they can be heartbreaking as well as inspiring. Such as …

--In a corridor, members of the Roseau band quietly saying, “You guys were great” and “We’re so proud of you” as athletes, exiting the court after coming up short in the championship game, sob, their shoulders heaving.

--A few hours later, players from Northfield applauding for their band members as they cross paths backstage after the Raiders lost to Cooper.

And then there are moments that make you smile in appreciation for kids who understand that being part of a team is a special thing, and when that experience comes to an end – whether in victory or defeat – it can hit them hard.

Madi Heiderscheidt, a senior from Sleepy Eye, and Abigail Bollinberg, a junior from Lyle-Pacelli, exemplified that sense of loss following Lyle-Pacelli’s 57-33 victory over Sleepy Eye in the 1A title game.

Both girls wiped tears from their eyes as they talked about the season, and the team, and the journey, coming to an end.

Madi, who will play basketball at the College of Saint Benedict, said, “I’m not as upset about second place as I am that my career is over.”

Lyle-Pacelli coach Justin Morris (who lives in Omaha, as noted previously in John’s Journal) coached his final game with the Athletics Saturday, and that added to Abigail’s feelings, despite the gold medal hanging around her neck.

“I’m kind of sad,” she said as the tears flowed. “I won’t get to play with these seniors again. I won’t get to play for our coach again.”

Kristi Fett, Lyle-Pacelli’s 6-foot-5 center who has signed with Minnesota State Mankato, had 30 points and 16 rebounds against Sleepy Eye. After three games in three days facing defenders who tried to outmuscle her under the basket, Kristi said, “We always talk about bumps and bruises being temporary but memories like these last a lifetime. You’ll remember the faces when you look around the team circle for the rest of your life.”

Following the Class 3A game, senior Annika Hoff of Northfield (who will play in the Ivy League at Cornell) was asked about the experience of wearing the Raiders uniform. She began to speak, saying “It’s been awesome,” and then broke down in tears.

The team? The experience? It’s everything. That’s the job.

Familiar Foes, New Final Result In Class 2A

Sauk Centre and Roseau have faced off at state for three years in a row now; in 2016 Roseau beat the Mainstreeters 94-82 in the third-place game and last season the Rams beat Sauk Centre 75-64 in the championship game. This time, the Mainstreeters came out on top 63-52.

Sauk Centre, making its eighth trip to state, ended a string of second-place finishes from 2012, 2015 and 2017.

Cooper Makes History In Class 3A

The Cooper Hawks capped their state tournament debut in grand style, defeating Northfield 49-37 for the school’s first team state title since 1985, when the softball team won the Class 2A championship.

Northfield also was seeking its first title in its third trip to state. The Raiders received flowers earlier in the week from the 1979 team, which also was a state runner-up. The Raiders’ most recent state appearance came in 2010.

In Class 4A, Eastview Stays Unbeaten

Eastview closed its season with a 32-0 record, joining Sauk Centre (33-0) as the state’s only undefeated teams. The Lightning, who won their first state title in 2014, defeated Hopkins 68-63 in the championship game. Hopkins, which has won six titles and finished second three times since 2004, was led by sophomore Paige Bueckers with a tournament-high 37 points.

Wells Fargo All-Tournament Teams

Class 1A

Kora Kritzberger, Ada-Borup/Norman County West; Mary Burke, Mountain Iron-Buhl; Lydia Sussner, Abby Hennen, Minneota; Madi Heiderscheidt, Sarah Ibarra, Brianna Polesky, Sleepy Eye; Olivia Christianson, Kristi Fett, Brooke Walter, Lyle-Pacelli.

Class 2A Kaylee Kirk, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton; Jaclyn Jarnot, Maranatha Christian; Bren Fox, Abby Mackenthun, Norwood-Young America; Katie Borowicz, Kacie Borowicz, Victoria Johnson, Roseau; Kelsey Peschel, Tori Peschel, Maesyn Thiesen, Sauk Centre.

Class 3A Destinee Oberg, Holy Angels; Cayle Hovland, Willmar; Heaven Hamling, Hannah DeMars, Grand Rapids; Annika Hoff, Grace Touchette, Rachel Kelly, Northfield; Aja Wheeler, Kierra Wheeler, Andrea Tribble, Cooper.

Class 4A Frannie Hottinger, Cretin-Derham Hall; Jayda Johnston, Roseville; Lauren Jensen, Ke James, Lakeville North; Paige Bueckers, Dlayla Chakolis, Raena Suggs, Hopkins; Megan Walstad, Mariah Alipate, Andrea Abrams, Eastview.

Girls State Basketball Tournament

Class 1A

Fifth place: Ada-Borup/Norman County West 63, Heritage Christian 47
Third place: Minneota 74, Mountain Iron-Buhl 56
Championship: Lyle-Pacelli 57, Sleepy Eye 33

Class 2A
Fifth place: Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 64, Byron 32
Third place: Norwood-Young America 64, Maranatha Christian 54
Championship: Sauk Centre 63, Roseau 52

Class 3A
Fifth place: Holy Angels 56, Alexandria 46
Third place: Grand Rapids 51, Willmar 42
Championship: Cooper 49, Northfield 37

Class 4A
Fifth place: Cretin-Derham Hall 64, Maple Grove 57
Third place: Lakeville North 51, Roseville 46
Championship: Eastview 68, Hopkins 63

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Newcomers To The State Championship Game
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/16/2018 11:10:09 PM

History will be made in Saturday’s Class 1A girls basketball state championship game at Target Center, as anyone who follows Sleepy Eye and Lyle-Pacelli can attest. Neither team has ever won a state title in girls basketball, and neither team has ever played in a championship game.

They combine for only three previous trips to state; Lyle-Pacelli in 2015 and Sleepy Eye in 2012 and 2016. Both teams advanced Friday with victories over schools that own long histories at the tournament.

Lyle-Pacelli defeated Minneota 53-42 in Friday’s semifinals. Minneota is playing at state for the seventh time since 2005, winning the title in 2013 and finishing second in 2014. And Sleepy Eye has gotten past Ada-Borup/Norman County West and Mountain Iron-Buhl, two of the giants in small-school girls basketball.

Ada-Borup won championships in 2008, 2009 and 2015 while finishing second in 2013. Mountain-Iron Buhl has placed second twice in seven trips to state since 2011.

And here’s a final fact to remember: Lyle-Pacelli is the No. 1 seed in the eight-team field and Sleepy Eye is not seeded at all.

Sleepy Eye senior Madi Heiderscheidt, who had a game-high 24 points Friday, said her team has relished the underdog role.

“Yeah, it’s great. I don’t think we’ve gotten the recognition we necessarily should the entire season. And it’s great to show everybody how hard we work and how good of a basketball team we can be. Being seniors, this is our last chance so we’re trying to keep our season alive as long as we can and it’s great to come out on this big stage.”

The big stage didn’t bother either of the winning 1A teams in the semifinals. Neither team had ever played a state tournament game at Target Center; all of their previous games at state had been played at Williams Arena or Mariucci Arena.

Senior experience has something to do with playing well in a big venue. Lyle-Pacelli has three seniors and Sleepy Eye has eight.

“You can tell that they have seniors. They’re senior-laden, they’re good kids,” Mountain Iron-Buhl coach Jeff Buffetta said of Sleepy Eye. “Give them credit, they put in the time. They’ve earned their moment.”

Sleepy Eye coach Ryan Hulke said his team used a lack of recognition, such as in statewide rankings, as motivation.

“We were sitting there at 17, 18 all year, just giggling, (saying) ‘Whatever … we’ll beat them when it comes to it. Just give us a chance.’ ”

--After Lyle-Pacelli defeated Minneota on Friday, Athletics coach Justin Morris grew emotional for a moment in the postgame press conference. Saturday’s state championship game will be his final day as Lyle-Pacelli’s coach – he lives in Omaha, as noted in the previous edition of John’s Journal, and has been a commuter coach all season – and returned this year to finish what began when the current seniors were in seventh grade.

“The closeness and the family atmosphere we have,” Morris said. “We’re just so close.”

After all the questions had been asked and answered, Morris shook hands with every member of the media and thanked them for the work they do.

--Hulke said he and Morris have developed a good relationship. “We’ve really gotten to know each other these last two years. We text weekly, and these last two weeks it’s been daily and all day. It’s going to be a ton of fun going against them.”

Rematch Set In Class 2A

While new teams will vie for the Class 1A title, familiar foes will decide the Class 2A state championship Saturday when Roseau and Sauk Centre meet. Roseau defeated Maranatha Christian 78-66 Friday night and Sauk Centre beat Norwood-Young America 54-45.

Roseau is playing at state for the fourth year in a row. Last year’s title was the Rams’ first, and they defeated Sauk Centre 75-64 in the 2017 championship game

The Mainstreeters will try to cap off their eighth trip to state with their first championship. They were the runner-up in 2012, 2015 and a year ago.

“We’re very, very excited, ready to go and play the game,” said Sauk Centre senior Maesyn Thiesen.

The Busiest Official In Minnesota

Among one of the three-person officiating crews working at Target Center on Friday was Josh Lamppa, a man who has achieved a real rarity. Josh played at the boys state basketball tournament for Bigfork in 1994, coached the Nashwauk-Keewatin boys basketball team at the state tournament in 2004 and has now been an official at state in five different years.

Josh also is a football official who has worked in the state playoffs four times, including the 2016 Prep Bowl, and also is a registered volleyball official. When he’s not officiating, he’s the activities director at Virginia High School.

Tournament Tidbits

--After Minneota lost to Lyle-Pacelli on Friday, the Vikings turned their thoughts to Saturday’s Class 1A third-place game with Mountain Iron-Buhl at Concordia University in St. Paul. But it would be hard to forgive their fans for already looking ahead to next season.

The high school basketball careers of seniors Laura Knutson, Carolyn Hoffman and Hidie Moorse will end Saturday, but all the Vikings who played in the state semifinals were non-seniors. The Minneota starters were three juniors, a sophomore and a freshman, with an eighth-grader and a ninth-grader coming off the bench.

“We’re obviously pretty young,” Minneota coach Chad Johnston said. “We still have an opportunity to finish the season on a win, and that’s something we can build on coming into next year.”

Girls State Basketball Tournament

Friday’s Semifinals
At Target Center

Class 1A

Lyle-Pacelli 53, Minneota 41
Sleepy Eye 63, Mountain Iron-Buhl 48

Class 2A
Sauk Centre 54, Norwood-Young America 45
Roseau 78, Maranatha Christian 66

Saturday’s Championship Games
At Target Center

Class 1A

Noon: Lyle-Pacelli vs. Sleepy Eye

Class 2A
2 p.m.: Sauk Centre vs. Roseau

Class 3A
6 p.m.: Cooper vs. Northfield

Class 4A
8 p.m.: Eastview vs. Hopkins

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

For Lyle-Pacelli, The Road To State Began In Nebraska
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/15/2018 8:19:21 PM

Justin Morris has added up the miles he has driven during this basketball season. The grand total is right around 23,000 miles on the road between his home in Omaha, Nebraska, and the team he coaches in southern Minnesota.

Morris has been the head coach at Lyle-Pacelli since 2012 and this will be his final season with the team, which is a cooperative effort between Lyle High School and Pacelli Catholic in Austin. When he took over, there was a group of young girls who have helped raise the profile of the Class 1A program. The Athletics made their first trip to state when the current seniors were freshmen and they returned this year, which was the hope all season long.

I wrote about Morris and the Athletics on Dec. 13, the day after they played a game in Randolph without their coach. Morris missed two other games during the season, but he will miss no more as the team closes the season at state. The top-seeded Athletics defeated Heritage Christian 59-43 in Thursday’s quarterfinals at Williams Arena and will meet Minneota on Friday at Target Center in the semifinals. (In this photo, Morris has his arms raised as the Athletics celebrate Thursday's win.)

The coach’s reason for moving from Austin to Omaha last summer sprang from an encounter after the 2015 state tournament. At a welcome home rally for the team, Morris was interviewed by a reporter from KAAL TV in Rochester. Her name is Megan Stewart; they ended up dating, are now engaged and they will be married in her hometown of Lakeville this summer. After Megan took a job at KMTV in Omaha early last year, Justin followed; he works as a senior vice president of a banking company.

In the postgame press conference Thursday, Justin opened by saying, “Last time I was here, I met my future wife. True story.”

Morris wanted to finish the story this season with the team’s three seniors: Brooke Walter, Kristi Fett and Kendal Truckenmiller. Fett, a 6-foot-5 center who has signed with Minnesota State Mankato, had a game-high 25 points and 18 rebounds Thursday.

Playing without their coach at some practices and games meant the athletes had to take more responsibility, Kristi said.

“It made us step up more. It brought us extremely close as a team because we knew that we had the responsibility, the whole team together. Most people probably think, ‘How can that work? You’re how far away and you’re the head coach?’ ”

Oh it worked.

Walter, whose father Brad is an assistant coach, said, “We’re a family here and we know what we have to do. We know when we come out and play we have to play our best every single game. We know what Justin would say, what he would do. Trust has been our big word.”

Tournament Tidbits

--Lyle-Pacelli’s Fett will be a tall order for Minneota in the semifinals, a fact acknowledged by Vikings coach Chad Johnston after his team defeated Menahga 74-69 in the quarterfinals. Minneota’s tallest player is 5-10 junior Lydia Sussner, who had 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists Thursday.

“That’s always challenging,” Johnston said of defending against a player like Fett. “Stopping her is one thing; they will just throw it up to her. Lydia will obviously give up some height. We have to figure that one out. One philosophy is to let her get her points and try to take others out of the game, but they’re very capable of hitting those shots. We’ll have to decide which route we’ll take, and we’ll sit down tonight and figure out what we’re going to do.”

--Menahga made a strong impression in the Braves’ first trip to the state tournament. Minneota was making its seventh state appearance, having won state titles in 2013 and 2014, but Menahga stayed with the Vikings to the end. Second-year Braves coach Cody Pulju said he knew playing at Williams Arena for the first time would be a challenge.

“There’s not one thing you can do to prepare them for this, and that was the result in the first half (Minneota led 41-30 at halftime). I think the environment got to us offensively in the first half, which was what we expected.”

Nevertheless, the Braves gave Minneota all they wanted in front of a great big boisterous crowd from Menahga that saw their team lose for the first time in 31 games this season. The only undefeated teams remaining are Sauk Centre (31-0) in Class 2A and Eastview (31-0) in Class 4A.

--To kick off the Class 1A quarterfinals, Heritage Christian band director Matthew Kinne stood in front of the orchestra, waved an arm to get the kids started on the national anthem, then with trumpet in hand he hopped up to the back row, joined the brass section and played along.

--Best sign in the stands: “Mya is on Fiya” in honor of Sleepy Eye senior Mya Ibberson.

--Personal note: Thursday marked my eighth anniversary doing this work for the MSHSL. It’s the best job in the world. Thanks to you all for reading these words, for putting up with my Twitter hijinks, and for saying hi when our paths cross. You are awesome.

Girls State Basketball Tournament
Thursday’s Games

Class 1A Quarterfinals

At Williams Arena
Lyle-Pacelli 59, Heritage Christian 43
Minneota 74, Menahga 69
Mountain Iron-Buhl 59, Stephen-Argyle Central 47
Sleepy Eye 53, Ada-Borup/Norman County West 51

Semifinals at Target Center

Class 3A

Cooper 65, Willmar 54
Northfield 64, Grand Rapids 54

Class 4A
Eastview 57, Lakeville North 47
Hopkins 61, Roseville 34

Friday’s Semifinals
At Target Center

Class 1A

Noon: Lyle-Pacelli vs. Minneota
2 p.m.: Mountain Iron-Buhl vs. Sleepy Eye

Class 2A
6 p.m.: Sauk Centre vs. Norwood-Young America
8 p.m.: Maranatha Christian vs. Roseau

Saturday’s Championship Games
At Target Center

Class 1A

Noon: Lyle-Pacelli or Minneota vs. Mountain Iron-Buhl vs. Sleepy Eye

Class 2A
2 p.m.: Sauk Centre or Norwood-Young America vs. Maranatha Christian or Roseau

Class 3A
6 p.m.: Cooper vs. Northfield

Class 4A
8 p.m.: Eastview vs. Hopkins

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

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