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John’s Journal: The Future Is Bright For Dodge County Girls Hockey

Wildcats Made History With First Trip To State, Hope For Return In 2025

Posted: Saturday, February 24, 2024 - 7:34 PM


Dodge County players (l-r) Ida Huber, Nora Carstensen, Abby Simons and coach Jeremy Gunderson.


From north to south, plenty of history was made during the 2024 Class A girls state hockey tournament at Xcel Energy Center.

From the north, the Warroad Warriors captured their third consecutive state championship, defeating the Dodge County Wildcats 5-2 on Saturday. Warroad has been to state 15 times and now owns five titles.

From the south, Dodge County made history with its first appearance at state. Getting all the way to the final game of the season can be tough for a first-time team; there is the deer-in-the-headlights phase of skating out under the bright lights and multiple levels of seats in the NHL arena, and there are also off-the-ice matters that need to be handled, like laundry, meals, finding an available ice sheet to do some skating.

“We got up here Tuesday night, then kids are looking at how to do laundry and everything else,” said coach Jeremy Gunderson. “So we learned a lot.”

For people who aren’t all that familiar with the Dodge County Wildcats, a little geography lesson might be in order. Dodge County is just west of Olmsted County (home of Rochester) and includes the communities of Kasson, Mantorville, West Concord, Hayfield and Claremont.

Byron is a few miles east of Kasson, home of Kasson-Mantorville High School and the Dodge County Ice Arena. That’s where the Wildcats play their home games.

The players for Dodge County are a mix of students from Kasson-Mantorville and Byron. The makeup of the team changed when the program moved from Class AA to Class A.

Dodge County hockey players once also came from schools in Triton, Pine Island, Zumbrota-Mazeppa, Hayfield and Blooming Prairie. Those combined enrollments put the team in Class AA, so a few years back the cooperative team limited the roster to students from Kasson-Mantorville and Byron.

“That was one of the things we worked really hard on,” said Gunderson. “We had eight schools in our district and we had a lot of teams that didn't have any players from there. So we petitioned for years to get moved down to Class A because we wanted to give kids a chance to play.

“Finally, two years or three years ago, we had to pull it back. …  now it's just the two schools that are five miles apart.”

--Click here to read a story about the Dodge County boys hockey team from 2015:

The Dodge County seniors were on the forefront of history, for which they can be forever proud. For the underclass players on this year’s squad, the burning desire to return to state next year has already begun smoldering.

“We've had an unreal season and it's been so awesome to be a part of this program and especially this team,” said senior defender Abby Simons. “I've really enjoyed my time as a Wildcat and getting to come to the state tournament and make some history with these girls. It's really cool.”

Asked about next year, junior forward Nora Carstensen said, “Obviously it's possible. I mean, we're here (this year). We have grit. We knew what we had to do this year and we got it done. I think next year, having that grit and knowing that this game just slipped out of our hands, that's going to give us a lot of push and it's going to give us a lot of motivation for next year.

“I'm super excited to work in the offseason and I know that the rest of the team is going to work super hard this offseason to get back here next year.”

--MSHSL senior content creator 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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Class A Girls Hockey State Championship: Warroad 5, Dodge County 2