State tournaments are special. That’s no secret, certainly. They come along every year in every sport and it may be easy to take them for granted just a bit. I hope that never happens to me or you.
I was reminded again of how awesome our tournaments are while sitting courtside at Williams Arena on Saturday. It was Championship Saturday for girls basketball, with big crowds and talented teams giving it everything they had. In the midst of all this, I had an exchange of online messages with a young friend of mine.
His name is Colin Nelson. He’s a senior and an Honor Roll student at New Ulm Cathedral High School. Colin and I have known each for a while now; he keeps me updated on what’s happening in the New Ulm area and we check in with each other online on a regular basis.
Colin isn’t an athlete but he’s a team manager, a scorekeeper, loves sports and does a lot of things to stay involved. He’s always upbeat and he often sends positive messages to his friends on Twitter. I like that young man a lot.
That’s how Colin and I chatted Saturday, via Twitter. This was our exchange…
Colin: “You're doing an impressive job covering these games. You have a dream job!”
Me: “Thanks Colin. I'm having fun!”
Colin: “5 years as a student manager and didn't make it to the state tournament once... It must be an electric experience.”
Me: “It's pretty cool. Never gets old.”
I cannot be more honest in making that statement. It never gets old. To hear a band strike up the school song as the fans clap along (which is happening as I write this … the teams from Winona and Holy Angels have just taken the court for the Class 3A championship game), well, how can you beat that?
Which brings us to some postgame comments made after the championship games. It’s easy for winning players and coaches to talk after these affairs; when you come out on the short end of the stick, well, it’s not so simple to sit in front of reporters and talk about it.
However, some of the most memorable postgame words came from those on the losing end Saturday.
Maranatha Christian senior guard Alaina Jarnot has played in the last five Class 1A state tournaments; her sister Jaclyn is a sophomore on the team. Alaina will play Division I basketball at Monmouth University in New Jersey. The Mustangs lost in the state championship game last year and this year, which one might think would be a bitter pill for a graduating senior. Not Alaina.
”I’m so blessed to play here,” she said. “I’ve had an amazing coach. My sister, I’m going to miss playing with her so much and all my other teammates. I’ve been to the state tournament since eighth grade. I’m just so happy to be part of this program.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Winona senior Hallee Hoeppner, who led the Winhawks in scoring this season and had a team-high 15 points in the Winhawks’ 51-43 loss to Holy Angels in the 3A title game.
“I’m just really proud to be a part of this team,” Hallee said after fighting back tears (of gratitude, not sadness). “I just had such a fun time playing with these girls. I told them in the locker room not to be hard on themselves. I have so many memories on and off the court and they have become my best friends. Even if we didn’t get a state title, I’m so happy to have been a part of this team.”
And then there was Mike Dreier, coach at New London-Spicer. Mike is as legendary as they come; in 38 years with the Wildcats, he is Minnesota girls basketball’s all-time leader in victories (863) and trips to state (16). His teams have played in eight state championship games, winning titles in 1997 and 2002.
On Saturday, unseeded New London-Spicer lost to a powerful top-seeded team from Plainview-Elgin-Millville 72-42 in the Class 2A championship game. And coach Dreier couldn’t have been more positive afterwards.
“It wasn’t the way we’d like it to end, but what a dream to be where we are,” he said. “We finished third in our conference and it was really a treat to get here. It was a great tournament for us, a great year. I am totally upbeat about what we did.”
Dreier also spoke very highly of Plainview-Elgin-Millville.
“Teams like that usually win state tournaments,” he said. “They’re tough, a well-coached team, good athletes and good size. They were the real deal, the total package and I salute them.”
That is true sportsmanship and total class. Let’s never take those things for granted, either.
John Millea is a media specialist for the Minnesota State High School League