Story by Paul Langfellow and Wally Langfellow
Photo gallery by Paul Langfellow
It was a basketball bonanza on March 7 and 8, as 572 girls traveling teams from across Minnesota clashed in the 30th annual MYAS Girls Grade State Championships at 13 different locations. The tournament featured over 1100 games and is the largest of its kind for girls basketball, drawing more teams and players than any tournament throughout the season.
This year’s spectacle not only drew hundreds of teams and fans, but also served as an important fundraiser benefiting many schools and youth programs. Doug Erlien, head girls basketball coach at Osseo High School and site coordinator at one of the tournament locations in Osseo, understands the importance of being a host. Erlien stressed that while the tournament is a great way to raise money it is also a time for the girls to contemplate their time together on the court. “It’s very much a period of reflection for the seniors who are working the tournament, being able to just watch the game,” explained Erlien.
While the tournament is certainly about competition with a goal of winning championships, Erlien said it’s also about finding common interest in basketball in general. “I would say number one, regardless of how old the kids are or what level they are playing at, they come out here and they find their passion and love for the game. I think as a coach at whatever level, that is the biggest thing we need to focus on.”
Erlien went on to describe how kids develop through playing and learning the game of basketball; “Basketball is a funny game. People talk about how the bounces is a cliché, but literally this game sometimes comes down to a bounce,” said Erlien. “I think as they develop and learn the game, that aspect of competition will always be what drives things.”
The Rogers High School basketball program hosts both the Boys and Girls Grade State Championship, so for them the financial benefit is huge. According to tournament site coordinator, and Rogers Tipoff Club Board member Darin Ellingson, their organization will pull in anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000 from hosting. That money goes towards paying for everything from new uniforms and warm ups, to extra coaches and meals.
“It’s a big boost for fundraising,” said Ellingson. “Anything we can do to make it a good experience for the players during the season and make sure that the parents don’t have to pay big fees is great.”
Level Playing Field
Teams from around the state traveled to the Twin Cities to play in this year’s tournament which thanks to multiple levels and a pre-tournament seeding meeting, made many of the games very evenly matched.. Coach Jamie Kouba of the 4th grade Elk River Girls C team explained how the experience and seeding of the tournament was beneficial. “Because this tournament is set up at the state level, the teams are a little bit closer matched than in a general tournament where we end up playing A and B teams. We are a lower level C team, so the close competition is a lot more fun,” said Kouba.
Kouba also explained that the difference between the Grade State Championships versus other tournaments is that the seeding is closer and they are actually true A, B and C teams. “They are split up more appropriately,” said Kouba.
Coach Katie Hughes of the Cloquet 6th Grade Girls team explained why participating in the Girls Grade State Championship was important to her team. “I think the best thing the girls can learn is how to handle tough situations when the competition is better,” Hughes said. “Playing in state tournaments can be a much different experience than playing in other tournaments throughout the year.” Hughes also recognized how her team was handling the higher level of competition: “The girls are just out here trying to get better and are having some fun while doing it” she said.
It was also a fun, but challenging weekend for Tracy Breen’s Wayzata 6A team. The Lady Trojans, who were 35-and-0 this season, had to learn how to play without their top player, Maddyn Greenway, who was injured a couple weeks ago. After winning their first two games this past weekend, Wayzata eeked out a 28-27 win in the semi-finals over Roseville Black to get to the 6A state championship game. But their unbeaten streak ended in the championship dropping a 41-16 decision to Farview.
“I’m really proud of my girls, and I know they did the best that they could do. And we were happy to take second” said Breen. Breen and co-coach (and former Minnesota Viking) Chad Greenway knew that playing this weekend without Greenway’s daughter was going to be a bigger challenge than usual, but are strong believers in teaching their team things outside of just winning and losing.
“We really practice a lot with sportsmanship. Before every game we make the girls that are jumping, say ‘good luck’ to whoever they’re standing next to… and then whoever is sitting on the bench needs to go over to the other bench and actually shake their hands and say good luck to them, which is kind of hard for sixth graders to do. But they did a great job doing that all year long.” Yet another win for the Wayzata 6A team, even if it didn’t show up in the final score.