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John’s Journal: After 641 Games, Annandale’s Dolan Has A State Title

Hayfield Repeats As Class 1A Champion, Totino-Grace Wins In 3A, Park Center In 4A

Posted: Saturday, March 26, 2022 - 6:09 PM


The Annandale Cardinals begin to celebrate as the final seconds tick off the clock.


Hayfield repeated as the Class 1A boys basketball state champion.

As the 641st game of Skip Dolan’s head coaching career came to an end, an end that was unlike any other, the Annandale head coach tried to find his wife Cathy in the stands at Williams Arena. He was unable to locate her, but that’s about the only miss the Cardinals had Saturday.

Dolan has been coaching Annandale for 26 years and the Cardinals’ 60-49 win over Minneapolis North in Saturday’s Class 2A state championship game was the first boys basketball title for the school. Annandale had made seven previous appearances at the state tournament; the best finish was second place in 2014.

“I looked all over at the end for my wife because as much I love my assistant coaches, she's my best assistant coach,” said Dolan, whose career record is 427-214. “She's been with me from day one, she knows this is who I am and she knows that I love doing this.”

The Cardinals finished with a record of 31-2, with the losses coming to Maple River on Dec. 11 and Albany on Dec. 16. They went 29-0 after that, defeating Maple Lake in the opening round of the Section 6 playoffs and Albany in the section title game.

The Cardinals’ five starters are all seniors and three-sport athletes, and their “slow” start to the season can be attributed to a lengthy football season that ended with a loss to Plainview-Elgin-Millville in the state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium on Nov. 20, two days before basketball practice began.

Time was needed for some injuries to heal, and the Cardinals finally got cranked up in late December. A three-point win over St. Cloud Tech on Dec. 30 was the turning point, according to Dolan.

“Once we beat them, I said, ‘You know what? There's going to have to be an awfully good 2A school to beat us.’ ”

That didn’t happen, and now the Cardinals have made history.

“It’s completely unbelievable I think we've all dreamed about this along with every other kid in the country who dreams about doing this,” said senior Hawkin Miller, who scored a game-high 18 points. “And to have the opportunity and the people around you in the community and the coaches around you, to be able to get it done. I think we all feel extremely blessed and lucky to be able to do this. It was a blast. I couldn't ask for anything more.”

Dolan talked about how much work went into the historic championship run.

You can’t understand how much time these guys put in. They’re three-sport athletes, they’ve all been in the weight room consistently, they’ve all have been in the gym at 6:30 in the morning and late and stuff like that. There's not one part about this that they didn't earn.”

Dolan, a grandfather of eight, was asked how the family will celebrate.

“We're pretty reserved as far as families go, so we'll just celebrate it as a family,” he said with a smile. “But don't think for one minute we are not cherishing this.”

--Annandale shot 56.4 percent for the game and 58.3 percent in the first half, which ended with the Cardinals leading 30-23. North struggled with its accuracy, hitting 37 percent of its shots in the final 18 minutes and 42 percent overall.

“You look at the stats, and we can't win if we don't put the ball in the basket,” said North coach Larry McKenzie, who is in his 26th year as a head coach. “And they shot the ball a lot better than we did. I think the one thing that we did not do today was we just didn't control the tempo. We played their style of basketball and obviously they were better at that than we were.”

Minneapolis North’s schedule was filled with quality opponents this season, including the teams who met Saturday night for the Class 4A state title. They lost a 12-point game to Park Center and lost by two to Wayzata, as well as defeating 3A finalist DeLaSalle. They also beat state tournament qualifiers Moorhead (4A) and Minnehaha Academy (2A).

McKenzie won four consecutive state titles at Minneapolis Patrick Henry from 2000 to 2003 and led North to championships in 2016 and 2017. North also won state crowns in 1980, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 2003.

Can Hayfield Go Back-To-Back-To-Back?

It’s a little bit amazing to think that in last season’s Section 1 playoffs, Hayfield was seeded third. All they did was win the 2021 Class 1A state championship and they did it again Saturday with a 51-49 victory over Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa. And here’s something else to chew on: The Vikings will return three starters next season.

Winning back-to-back championships is rare, and the Hayfield players said it was not easy to compare the two.

“It's exciting, an unreal feeling both times,” said junior Isaac Matti, who had a game-high 27 points Saturday. “But this year it was a little bit of an expectation almost. Whereas last year was the first time for a lot of us, this was more of an expectation.”

Senior Kobe Foster called the 2022 title “a sigh of relief kind of, because we had a target on our back all year.”

--Half of the Hayfield basketball players also play baseball, and that team was scheduled to be on a 2 a.m. Sunday flight to Florida to relax in the sun and work out. Vikings senior Easton Fritcher, who will play baseball at the University of Minnesota as the first Division I baseball player to come from Hayfield, said, “It’s going to be tough. I need some sleep.”

--After Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa defeated New Life Academy in Friday’s semifinals, coach Chris Anderson was asked about the challenge of facing the defending state champions in the title game. His answer spoke volumes.

“Obviously they've been in this situation, they've been in the state title game,” he said about Hayfield. “But I'll take what we have. I'll take these guys and I'll take them any day of the week. They have a lot of heart and passion.”

Totino-Grace Wins First 3A State Championship

The Totino-Grace Eagles made history by capturing the school’s first boys basketball state title with a 50-44 win over DeLaSalle in Class 3A. The Eagles had been to state five times between 1993 and 2006. DeLaSalle is one of the most storied programs in Minnesota, winning 12 titles between 1985 and 2019.

The Totino-Grace boys matched the 3A state championship won by the Eagles girls a week earlier.

DeLaSalle led 29-26 at halftime but the Islanders made only six of 25 field-goal attempts in the second half. Totino-Grace made 60 percent of its field-goal attempts in the final 18 minutes to secure the title.

Class 4A: Park Center Wins Its First Title

Park Center, the top-seeded team in the Class 4A tournament, defeated Wayzata 58-53 to win the school’s first boys basketball state championship. The Pirates’ best previous finish was second place in 2013.

Park Center’s only loss this came was against Totino-Grace, the 3A state champ. The Eagles defeated the Pirates 64-61 on Jan. 21. Cody Pennebaker led Park Center on Saturday with 23 points. Hayden Tibbits scored 13 points and Carter Bjerke had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Trojans.

Honoring Officials And Students

--Recipients of the MSHSL Officials Distinguished Service Awards were honored at halftime of the Class 1A championship game. The honorees were Mike Amidon, St. Paul; David Anderson, Rochester; Tony Bartovich, Eveleth; Bill Benson, Maple Grove; Greg Rathbun, Byron; Jennifer Smith, Woodbury; and George Winn, Maple Grove. The Range Coaches & Officials Association was named an  Association of Excellence.

--Triple-A Award winners from around the state were honored at halftime of the Class 2A championship game. The MSHSL Academics, Arts and Athletics Award honors seniors who have a 3.0 or higher grade-point average and participate in League-sponsored athletic and fine arts activities. The list of winners can be found here:

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected]  

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