In MN high school sports, the kids are alright

With Saturday’s championship games in high school basketball, the winter high school sports season and tournament season is over.

This was a great season for youth sports in Minnesota, if you define “great season” by great sportsmanship along with the quality of play. It was a breath of fresh compared to some previous years.

The Minnesota State High School League’s John Millea noticed something important on Saturday; the losers were winners.

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.”

Goodhue beat Maranatha Christian 89-to-64, winning their first Class 1A title in six tries. But that’s only part of the story.

The tournament coincided with a school trip to Florida, which involved many of the kids at the school, including the band. So the kids in the band from Plainview-Elgin-Millville filled in admirably, Millea reported, playing the Goodhue school song as the Wildcats won the 1A title.

At the end of the day, all we can really ask from high school sports is to walk away from the game saying, “You know what? These kids are alright.”

These kids are alright.