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John’s Journal: History Is Made By St. Paul Como Park

Cougars Record First Victory At State Girls Basketball Tournament

Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2022 - 5:10 PM


Three-sport athletes on the Grand Rapids girls basketball team are (left-right) Addie Linder, Kyra Giffen, Amanda Scherping, Hannah Hostetter, Jada Morgan and Sydney Burggraf.

The girls basketball team from St. Paul Como Park made history Wednesday afternoon at Maturi Pavilion, winning a game at the state tournament for the first time. The Cougars, who previously went to state in 2016, defeated Grand Rapids 76-57 in the Class 3A quarterfinals and will meet Totino-Grace Lakes in Thursday’s semifinals at Williams Arena.

The biggest player for Como Park is senior Ronnie Porter. She was named the St. Paul Pioneer Press East Metro player of year this week and scored a game-high 22 points with seven assists and five steals Wednesday while playing all but 56 seconds of the game.

In her case, “biggest” refers not to her height but her impact. She is averaging nearly 23 points per game and has more than 2,000 career points. Porter is listed as 5 feet, 3 inches in the tournament program; asked about her height after Wednesday’s game, she joked, “I’m 5-8.”

I don't even think about it,” she said. “I don't even worry about the size.”

Como Park coach Olonda England said her pregame instructions to the Cougars were simple: Play your game, the kind of basketball that saw them bring a 21-6 record to state.

“Stay mentally ready and just get up and down the floor,” were her instructions.

Como Park controlled nearly the entire game, trailing only once for 14 seconds. The Cougars led by as many as 21 but it was a 10-point game, 61-51, with 5:35 remaining in the second half. Como Park clamped down hard on defense, outscoring the Thunderhawks 11-0 to put it away.

Grand Rapids Specializes In Multi-Sport Athletes

The Grand Rapids Thunderhawks girls basketball roster consists of 13 players, and 12 of them take part in one or two other sports. Half a dozen basketball players are three-sport athletes, participating in tennis, softball, track, soccer, lacrosse, golf, etc.

“It's awesome. It really benefits us because they stay fit and physical all year round, whether it's volleyball, basketball, tennis, whatever,” said girls basketball coach Kris Hamling. “They're just doing all sorts of activities and they know what pressure is. They want to win and those sports transfer over to other sports. We're grateful to be able to have those kinds of athletes on our teams.”

Grand Rapids activities director Anne Campbell said the school has around 600 student-athletes, with about 35 percent of them involved in more than one sport.

“We're a community that is not large,” she said. “We wouldn't have enough kids if our kids didn't play other sports.”

Kyra Giffen, a track athlete and a starter on the Thunderhawks’ state-tournament volleyball team last fall, said, “It definitely helps us stay in shape and learn different movements. The muscles that I use in volleyball and track are different than basketball, so it's great getting everything throughout the whole year.”

Katelyn Jamtgaard, another volleyball starter, said, “Especially with volleyball, you really have to work on your vertical and I think that helps so much with basketball. And things like leg strength and core strength from volleyball carry over to basketball.”

Taryn Hamling, who had a team-high 20 points Wednesday and also plays tennis, said, “Tennis is more of a personal sport, and that helps me on the basketball floor not to get too angry and to just keep my composure and just be myself.”

Down To The Wire For Becker-Austin

The Becker Bulldogs are among the top dogs in Class 3A girls basketball, as evidenced by their performance in recent seasons …

2018-19: State runner-up.

2019-20: Advanced to the state championship game, which was never played when Covid-19 shut down the tournament.

2020-21: State champs.

Since the start of the 2018-19 season, the Bulldogs have a record of 98-14. But they were in trouble, big trouble, on Wednesday in the state quarterfinals against Austin at Maturi Pavilion.

The matchup was intriguing, with Becker (23-4) the top seed in 3A and Austin not seeded despite a sterling record of 24-5; teams are seeded by the participating coaches.

“Austin is a fantastic team,” said Becker coach Dan Baird. “For them to be our first-round matchup, I don't know. I don't know how that happened or what's wrong with the process but they're one of the best teams in Class 3A and we knew that going in.”

With a bit more than two minutes to play Wednesday, it looked the Bulldogs might be going out. Austin had stepped up throughout the game and the Packers looked to be in position to pull off the surprise.

Austin had leads as large as 10 points in the second half and led by seven with a little more than two minutes to play. But Becker, playing strong defense and hitting shots when it counted the most, did what Becker does. The Bulldogs scored the game’s final 12 points and won 53-48.

“Our message to the girls was it was going to be a tough game,” Baird said. “We knew we had to come out and play because we their five starters are really, really good.”

Austin held the lead for more than 21 minutes in the 34-minute game, with Hope Dudycha and Olivia Walsh each scoring 12 points. Becker was led by Maren Westin with 15 points and Adeline Kent with 13.

“We just didn't quite get that one more bucket that we needed, and give credit to what Becker does defensively,” said Austin coach Eric Zoske. “Obviously, they're very good. They have athletes, they switch everything, and we knew that. … We did the best we could to simulate them in practice. But you know, it comes down to hitting shots, right? And they hit a couple of shots the last four or five minutes, and it's kind of like throw the defense out the window. If you're open, you’ve got to hit it. And they did that the last couple of minutes.”

--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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