STATE (of things*)

March 11

And then COVID-19 broke up the game.  As we drove to Minneapolis for the opening round games of the girls state basketball tournament, I had a pretty strong feeling the tournament would not be completed.  (DYK, it is exactly a 274-mile round trip from north Alexandria to the U of M campus, exiting town by way of West Union and returning by why of Two Guys Pizza.)  While nothing had been called off yet, I was sure the boys tournament the following week would be cancelled.  The girls did play the 1st and 2nd rounds (in classes 3A and 4A), but then all the championships were cancelled.  Alex lost to the No. 2 seeded Becker Bulldogs in a very close game (the game we attended), and then beat Red Wing in the consolation round (the consolation championship game was then cancelled).  The boys section titles were completed (Alex lost by 2 to No. 1 seed St. Cloud Apollo, a really good game I watched streamed before a limited crowd), but then their state tournament was cancelled.  Now that I’m in the late autumn or early winter of my years, I really don’t pay much attention to sports anymore.  I don’t follow the pros at all, only follow the Gophers at the collegiate level, and prefer high school sports to all.  But when they’re all gone, it really limits your TV options.  I had settled in at home ready for a girls class A semifinal game between Minneota and Waterville-Elysian-Morristown when the word game down – all games at every level in every sport were called off . . . 

[Loni Anderson greets all guests in every room of the Graduate Hotel, two blocks from Williams Arena on the U of M campus . . . ]

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[The Super greets every guest at happy hour . . . ]

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[When you now live in a small city, the view from a 4th floor is awesome . . . ]

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[A campus view from the hotel . . . ]

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[Halsey Hall, even more famous than Loni, was also in the room . . . ]

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[Lest you weren’t sure, we’re in Williams Arena now . . . ]

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[You can’t tell the players without a program . . . ]

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[This will be explained anon . . . ]

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[This is explanation No. 1 . . . ]

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[I wanted to see Paige Bueckers play live and in person.  I have seen videos of several of her games.  The No. 1 player in the country did not disappoint (Strib photo) . . . ]

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[This is explanation No. 2 (Strib photo) . . . ]

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[OK, here’s the further explanation.  Taylor Woodson (20) is a 5’11” freshman starter for Hopkins.  This photo is up for Strib photo of the year.  Taylor’s grandma is in the photo above from the early ’60’s (re me: yes, that was a fake tie, with the ever popular corduroy suit).  “Grandma” Kathy was my classmate and across the street neighbor growing up in Victoria Heights in Alex . . . ]

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[Kathy and Taylor (photo from the Woodson family archive) . . . ]

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[Continuing from the program . . . ]

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[And now to the games (finally?).  We started in Williams Arena where Hopkins would extend their 60-something game two-year winning streak against Cambridge-Isanti . . . ]

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[Here Ms. Bueckers launches a two-hand pass to a teammate (or to the old guys in the stair well) during warm-ups . . . ]

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[Here’s Taylor rebounding in warm-ups . . . ]

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[Here I was trying to get a shot of my look-a-like to her right but Paige got in the way . . . ]

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[And here she totally blots him out . . . ]

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[Hopkins line-up is all Division 1 talent.  I don’t know how they determine such things, but they are ranked in the top 4 in the country . . . ]

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[One can hardly believe Taylor is only a freshman . . . ]

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[And Paige not only has all the skills, but she’s 6′ tall as well . . . ]

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[At center for Hopkins is Maya Nnaji, a 6’4″ sophomore.  Needless to say, she’s on everybody’s recruiting list.  Her brother was just named Pac 12 freshman of the year at Arizona . . . ]

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[And away we go . . . ]

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[The Cambridge center is only 6′ tall, but she gave it a go and had a pretty good game offensively.  On the defensive end though, nobody on her team could match up against Maya . . . ]

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[The freshman Taylor (20) and senior Paige (1) clicked all year.  Paige always has a knack for finding Taylor open underneath . . . ]

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[When she has all 3 defenders concentrating on her, Paige will give a little flip pass to Taylor for a lay-up . . . ]

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[KK Adams (22) is the only Hopkins starter not near or above 6′ tall.  She’s the 3-point shooter . . . ]

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[Maya already has all the tools and is a good free throw shooter . . . ]

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[Paige following through on one of her rare shots in the game . . . ]

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[Taylor, who runs track, and Paige often out on the break together . . . ]

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[Paige looking to cut behind Taylot . . . ]

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[And here it looks like she has a short dribble to the right for a hoop . . . ]

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[But she back passed to KK for the shot . . . ]

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[It was 54 – 24 at the half.  If it was any consolation for Cambridge, that happens to a lot of teams.  Hopkins won handily.  Paige only had 7 points, I believe, as she only took 4 shots preferring to get assists instead . . . ]

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[From there, the Super, Kathy, and I moved over to the adjoining Maturi Pavillion for the Cardinals game.  This is where the Gopher volleyball, wrestling, and gymnatics teams compete.  This is the first time I had been in here since 1968 – when I was going to the U this is where the hockey team played . . . ]

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[The Cardinals came on the floor for their game while game two was still ongoing . . . ]

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[Simley was then scheduled to play DeLaSalle, the winner of game one . . . ]

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[The Cards warmed up at our end of the court.  Coming in, we saw two ex-Cardinal roundballers – McKenzie Duwenhoeger, now at the U on the track team; and Macy Hatlestad, now playing basketball for St. Thomas.  I asked both if they would suit up again for the Cards . . . ]

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[Changed off the telephoto lens so I could shoot the whole arena, and you can see where we were sitting . . . ]

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[The Becker student section on the far side all in white . . . ]

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[From my vantage at the top of the stairs, I could see all the Alexandria movers and shakers come in . . . ]

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[And my game-to-game hero . . . ]

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[The Amazing Mr. Ripley at his courtside station . . . ]

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[Pre-game discussion between the teams and the constabulary . . . ]

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[I assume they were asking where to eat in Dinkytown now that Vescio’s has closed . . . ]

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[And Coach Kohler may have been asking if she’d get carded at Stub & Herbs . . . ]

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[Not to worry, Mark.  I’ll be a character witness . . . ]

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[Boom!  Dynamite!  Well, that’s the Super’s favorite cheer . . . ]

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[Cheerleading is oft a hair raising experience . . . ]

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[And introducing the Cardinals:  Alayna Strand (25), 5’11” junior . . . ]

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[Ella Grove (11), 6′ senior . . . ]

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[Here with Bulldogs star of stars, Julia Bengston . . . ]

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[And the basketball sorority handshake . . . ]

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[Myah Kremer (15), 5’8″ junior . . . ]

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[Mia McGrane (5), 5’7″ senior . . . ]

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[Jaya Hatlestad (3), 5’5″ junior.  The Cards basically have 9 starters so there have been different combinations introduced all year, Ella and Mia being the two constants . . . ]

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[Alayne prepares for the opening leap . . . ]

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[And she gets it . . . ]

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[Ella gets ready for a free throw while another starter Mataya Hoelscher (23), 5’5″ junior, prepares her footwear for the next possession . . . ]

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[One of my most favoritedest shots of the day.  Ella, an automatic free throw shooter, against the white background of the Becker students.  And another starter, Lilly Horn (33), 5’10” junior, has joined the fray . . . ]

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[And readying . . . ]

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[And swish . . . ]

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[The coach’s reminder:  Steal the ball, and push, push, push . . . ]

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[So Mataya and Ella pushed . . . ]

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[Mataya and Lilly play catch while Alayna tries to establish post position . . . ]

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[Mataya cuts around a double pic from Lilly and Alayna along the baseline while Myah looks to hit her in the corner . . . ]

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[Myah here, and otherwise Mia, tried to keep an eye on Ms. Bengston, a surefire Division 1 prospect . . . ]

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[Lilly and another starter Summer Gerhardt (35), 5’10” also on defense.  The Cards played great defense the whole game (I think we were 2nd in the state in opposition scoring) holding Becker well below their season average . . . ]

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[Cards looking to break after a rebound or turnover . . . ]

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[At the half.  Becker was seeded 2nd in class 3A, which became even more apparent why when they scored 95 points in their semifinal game the next day . . . ]

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[Kathy was kind enough to join us for her alma mater’s game after we’d all been to the Hopkins game in the morning.  Fine lunch dining was a hotdog between games . . . ]

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[In the 2nd half, the Cards would be defending at our end.  This almost looks like a volleyball formation . . . ]

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[And then the scrum began . . . ]

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[The Bulldogs are built around three really good guards, now juniors, who have started together since they were freshmen.  Alex plays them every year and the games always go down to the wire . . . ]

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[Alyna hit a couple of free throws here . . . ]

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[Then Ella, ole Otto Matic . . . ]

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[And the dogfight again . . . ]

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[Adeline Kent (11), sophomore guard, hurt us with a couple 3’s in the 2nd half . . . ]

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[Very few, if any, breakaways by either team as both always hustled back . . . ]

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[We may have had a 6 point lead at one point, but the game was always close though most the time Becker had a slight lead . . . ]

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[Courtney Nuest (15) for the Bulldogs I believe had the highest 3-point shooting percentage in the state . . . ]

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[And Alayna Lindquist (14), another one of their shooting guards . . . ]

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[Back to Ella . . . ]

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[Who had a great game with 21 points and 10 rebounds . . . ]

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[I think Alayna missed ’em here . . . ]

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[Mataya (23) chasing on D here had a really good game and was the leading scorer against Red Wing in the consolation game.  Hers and Myah’s games really developed as the season went along – both have terrific speed which, of course, can’t be taught. . . ]

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[We’re winding down now . . . ]

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[The Becker center was also a good free throw shooter . . . ]

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[The Cardinal broadcasters in fine form . . . ]

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[DMac and BCun . . . ]

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[The Cards had to foul to catch up.  Becker hit 86% of their free throws in the game making it impossible to do so . . . ]

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[The Cardinal girls exceeded my preseason expectations, as did the boys team.  Both teams were really fun to watch as they play at high speed with pressure defense.  The girls will return 6 of their 9 starters; the boys return three key starters, so both teams should be able to give it a run again next year.  We’ll wrap this up with a few shots from the Echo . . . ]

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[And a congrats to coaches Wendy and Julie . . . ]

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[And to the team, as consolation co-champions (these last photos from Wendy’s FB) . . . ]

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[They say nobody is irreplaceble, but the three seniors – Mia, Ella, Summer – formed the core of this year’s team.  Congratulations and a lifetime bon voyage.]

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When I grew up, I never – I wasn’t allowed to go out.  I missed my prom because I went to an AAU tournament and all that stuff.  For me, it was basketball, basketball, basketball.  ~  J. R. Smith

Up Next:  We’re pretty much home bound for a while . . .

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