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High School Sports: With state tournaments getting the OK, area teams have a real goal

The Minnesota State High School League's approval in all sports means that every team has a chance at a state title this year.

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Willmar freshman defender Makenna Larson pushes the puck up the ice during first-period action of a Central Lakes Conference game against Bemidji on Jan. 21 from the Willmar Civic Center. Patrick Bernadeau / West Central Tribune
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Building camaraderie has been a challenge in the winter sports season for Eric Setrum.

The head coach of the defending Section 6A champion Willmar girls hockey team, Setrum pointed out in particular the separated practices and separate travel for varsity and JV to games as precautions for COVID-19.

“We’ve tried to approach every game like tomorrow’s not guaranteed, so we need to do the best we can,” Setrum said.

On Thursday, Willmar girls hockey and other winter sports teams were boosted up by good news: winter state tournaments are a go.

During the Minnesota State High School League’s Board of Directors meeting, postseason dates and formats were approved, setting the stage for all tournaments to take place over five weeks.

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If the Cardinals repeat as section champions, both boys and girls hockey will be played at the Xcel Energy Center. The girls quarterfinals will go from March 26-27, followed by the boys quarterfinals on March 30-31. The girls semifinals will play April 1, followed by the boys on April 2. The four championship teams — Class A and AA for both boys and girls — will take place on April 3.

Having a concrete solution to the postseason is something Setrum believes will give a scattered team something to bond over.

“With (Thursday’s) news, now it’s on paper,” Setrum said. “We didn’t talk much about it (Thursday) but now, we can add it to the conversation on where we want to finish with conference and sections and now, state. It puts added incentive to do the things we’re trying to work on.”

Setrum added, “It’s very exciting to A. have it at the X, which was such an exciting position last year, and B. having it the same weekend as the boys. We’ve seen in our doubleheaders with the boys that the crowds are bigger and it adds exposure to the girls programs. Most people, once they see the girls programs and how far they’ve come, it’s exciting to watch. It can only be a positive.”

Boys and girls basketball will have state begin on March 30-31 at regional sites for quarterfinals. Semifinal and state championship games are tentatively scheduled from April 6-10 at the Target Center, with semis on April 6-8 and championships on April 9-10.

“I would take anything and I think every coach would take anything at this point,” said BOLD girls basketball coach Brian Kingery, who brought the Warriors to the Class A state tournament in 2018-19. “Anything is better than nothing.”

State wrestling has the most question marks of any of the state tournaments. Each section will have two teams and four individuals at each weight class to a prelim tournament held regionally on March 13. Out of that prelim round, one team and two individuals from each weight class would compete at state. From March 25-27, each class will have its own day and will compete at a site to be determined.

Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City head wrestling coach Mike Amsden is very curious to see how things can unfold. The Falcons are ranked third in Class A and have been the Section 4A champions the last three years. They are the favorites again in 2021. Going by geography, Amsden said a case could be made for 4A to be paired with 1A, 3A, 5A or 6A.

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Section 5A would be a particularly brutal pairing for anyone with three of the top four teams in Class A: Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Browerville (first); Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (second); and Minnewaska (fourth).

“I’m not exactly sure how it’s going to work,” Amsden said. “Somehow it’s going to be a super section based on geography is what I understand. It’s going to be different. It’s going to be interesting.”

Amdsen added about having a state tournament, “It’s good to have it, though. Barring any difficulties that may arise with pairing with different sections, it’s important that we have it and that’s the number one thing. There’s an ending of a season, it’s just different than what we’re used to.”

Other winter sports breakdowns in the West Central area:

  • Nordic ski: one-day, two-session event on Friday, March 12 at Giants Ridge Golf and Ski Resort in Biwabik. Eighty skiers in each gender will compete.

  • Dance team: Tentatively scheduled for Friday, March 12 (jazz) and Saturday, March 13 (high kick) at Edina High School. Competition would start with Class AAA and would have a single dance per day.

  • Boys swimming and diving: Three-day event starting with diving Thursday, March 18 at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center at the University of Minnesota campus. Swimming finals will be held on Friday, March 19 and Saturday, March 20 and will have timed finals with no prelims. A maximum of four sections will be competing at any one time.

  • Gymnastics: Two-day event with Class A on Friday, March 26 and AA on Saturday, March 27 at Champlin Park High School. Each day will have two sessions of four teams/sections. Qualifying individuals will rotate with the qualifying team from their section.

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ACGC's Logan Straumann gets his hand raised after beating LPGE/Browerville's Nye Becker at 145 pounds in the Class A team state championship match on Feb. 27, 2020 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

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