A year ago, these championships weren’t. But this week, five state tournaments for Minnesota high school spring sports will crown individual and team champions Wednesday through Saturday.
The blast, culminating in a school year rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, includes four-class baseball and softball tournaments. Boys and girls will compete separately in lacrosse, three golf classes, and two track and field classes. Men’s tennis held its state tournaments last week. Reflecting the loosening of the pandemic’s grip, sports that started the spring season with required masks are ending without them.
The venues for golf and softball remain the same as in years past while baseball, but lacrosse and track and field have changed.
This year’s high-level talent at the Suburban East Conference could become even more apparent in the Class 4A tournament.
Three of the best teams in the conference, Stillwater, Mounds View and Park of Cottage Grove, advanced to the field of eight. They all have a front-line pitcher who could jump them to the semifinals.
Suburban East has captured four of the last seven state championships. Stillwater won the state crown in 2018, while Mounds View was back-to-back in 2013 and 2014. East Ridge added the most recent title in 2019.
In Class 3A, the Metro East Conference is home to the only two metropolitan schools in the field: Mahtomedi and St. Thomas Academy. The Zephyrs won the state title in 2018 and the Cadets did the same in 2019. The conference won three of the four state championships since the Minnesota State High School League expanded to four classes in 2016.
The first round of Tuesday’s Class 3A girls’ tournament features a super foursome of even the best in the state not participating.
With the 2019 individual state champion and top ranked Simley’s Isabella McCauley relegated to being a fan after deciding to play in the U.S. Women’s Open, her freshman sister Reese finds herself in a elite company.
Reese is one of the top four players in the state, not a senior, making up a foursome that starts at 9 a.m. Tuesday for the first round at Bunker Hills Golf Club in Coon Rapids. Blaine’s No. 1 sophomore Kathryn VanArragon tops the pack, followed by McCauley at No. 3, sophomore Olivia Salonek from Roseville and 8th high school student Madi Hicks from Chanhassen.
The top-rated male player in the state, Northfield junior Nate Stevens, will begin his round at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. The two-day event in all three classes will conclude Wednesday 2A at Ridges in Sand Creek in Jordan and 1A at Pebble Creek Golf Club in Becker.
A host of new state tournament qualifiers bring excitement to boys and girls groups.
Among the new women’s teams, No. 6 Rosemount and No. 7 Benilde-St. Margaret offers the top 10 ranking credentials. Andover and Hill-Murray also debut in state tournaments.
The veteran half of the girls’ group includes 2019 state champion Prior Lake, who defeated top-ranked Edina in the Section 6 final. All-state first-team picks Payton Bloedow and Meghan McGowan lead the Lakers. Lakeville South, number 3 in the ranking, has three such players: Lauren Sheets, Emily Moes and Lindsay Wirfs. Second team member Brielle Fannin leads the state with 63 assists.
Hardcore Eden Prairie does not offer statewide first team picks. No matter. The 10th-ranked Eagles qualified for their 14th state tournament in as many attempts, defeating fifth-ranked Chanhassen in the Section 2 final.
Prior Lake is seeded for the tournament, followed by Lakeville South, Rosemount, Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Eden Prairie.
There are also four new faces among the men’s teams: Chanhassen, Chisago Lakes, Moorhead and Stillwater. No. 2 seed Chanhassen, led by forward Tyr Christianson, delivered top seed Benilde-St. Margaret is her only loss in the regular season.
Motivation comes in many forms for the Red Knights, runners-up in 2019. They return a host of talents not seen often in high school sports. Five players earned first-team All-State honors, led by midfielders Paddy Burns and Jackson Leischow, as well as head-to-head specialist Drew Nylander.
No. 3 seed Prior Lake won the 2019 state title. Earlier this season, Benilde-St. Margaret dispatched the Lakers 13-6. Prior Lake’s winning culture, coupled with Matthew Kallberg’s formidable defensive presence, make the program difficult in the postseason. Case in point: The third-ranked Edina Lakers’ overtime loss in the Section 6 championship game.
Local team Stillwater won fourth place, one place ahead of St. Thomas Academy.
Caswell Park in North Mankato, site of the state softball tournament, will be lively once again after a year off.
The 32-team field for the state tournament, which takes place Tuesday and Wednesday with eight teams in each of the four classes, looks particularly strong this season. Probably because talent rose more easily to the top after missing an entire season.
In Class 4A, Stillwater, ranked No. 1, plays Forest Lake, the only team to beat the Ponies, in the quarterfinals.
The other three big school matchups bring their own intrigue. Chanhassen vs. Elk River is a high-level pitching duel between Sydney Schwartz of Chanhassen and Annie Volkers of Elk River. Centennial’s rising pitching star Helene Krage hopes to end the Hopkins tandem of pitcher Signe Dohse and catcher Lauren Granger. And Rosemount and Lakeville North add another chapter to their rivalry at the South Suburban Conference. The teams split a couple of regular season games.
In Class 3A, No.1 seed Mankato West hopes he’s battle-tested enough after surviving the Big 9 Conference. Scarlet has five losses, but got revenge on two of them by defeating rival Mankato. East in the final of Section 1. St. Anthony, the most powerful offensive team on the field, with a loss, is left with Benilde-St. Margaret is in the first round. The Red Knights gave the Huskies their only loss, 3-2 on May 25.
Class 2A has Kentucky-bound senior Taylor Hess in the circle of second-seeded Maple Lake, who is seeking his second title in four years. Class 1A features three undefeated teams: Randolph (24-0), Badger-Greenbush-Middle River (26-0) and Browerville (23-0).
Sweltering temperatures at last week’s track and field section championship fixtures brought performances to match.
Those results, compiled by MileSplit Minnesota editor Ryan Kotajarvi, show Stillwater senior Analee Weaver setting a record time of 3,200 meters of 10 minutes, 34.22 seconds in Class 2A, Section 4. Weaver, voted Gatorade Minnesota Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, faces a strong contender in St. Michael-Albertville junior Ali Weimer. Her mark of 10: 33.32 hers set the Section 5 fixture record.
Concordia Academy of Roseville’s Shaina Zinter set Class 1A, Section 4 records in the 100 and 300 meter hurdles. She placed in the top 10 of the state race for 300 hurdles by running a 43.10.
A couple of out-of-state field event specialists also impressed.
The 16-foot punt shot Pine Island’s Jarod White to third all-time for Minnesota pole vaulters. And Annandale’s Nyalaam Jok has the top 10 career records for girls in the high jump (5ft, 10in) and long jump (19-5).
No preliminaries will be held for the fixtures, the last one before the sport shifts to three classes next year.