Girls Basketball: STMA knocks off Elk River advancing to state
Coach Hamre on seeding: ‘Tired of getting hosed’
By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
The start wasn’t pretty, but the finish ended in jubilation. The St. Michael-Albertville girls’ basketball team made its fifth trip in eight seasons to the Target Center after a 68-59 victory in the Section 8, Class 4A title game last Friday over Elk River.
With a near capacity crowd on hand at Sexton Arena on the campus of St. John’s University, the Knights admittedly came out sluggish. In fact, the game took three attempts to successfully get the opening jump ball correct.
Elk River eventually took the opening possession and raced its way to an early 15-7 advantage – beating the Knights at their own game in an up-and-down, fast paced start.
“I think we had a little first-half jitters,” said freshman forward Sydney Tracy. “We got over it though. We knew we were the better team and we just had to come out and show it.”
“I knew they would come out pretty hard to start,” said senior guard Natalie Van Wyhe. “We just kept our composure and kept going back-and-forth playing our game. We were able to pull away a little bit after that.”
A three-point bucket by senior guard Nicole Westrum with 6:37 left in the half gave the Knights their first lead 18-17. It was the same advantage they carried into halftime, leading 29-28.
Elk River leading scorers Shelby Gracik and Abbi Scheid were held in check for most the first half. The two combined for 13 of the 28 points for the Elks.
Scheid would become a factor later in the game, as the freshman center ended up with a game high 16 points and collected seven rebounds and five blocks.
But it was STMA’s ability to hit the 3-point shot down the stretch that proved to be the difference.
Van Whye, junior Erin Autio and senior Makenzie Bebo converted on four of the Knights’ six 3-pointers in the game, all coming in the second half. Autio was 2-of-4 from long range and sophomore Bobbi Brendefur and Westrum also hit from long range.
“That was pretty big for us,” Van Wyhe said. “Every time I’d drive, they would collapse and then we would just kick out and the three would be wide open. We were able to hit our shots.”
While the outside shot was a weapon on offense, the big key was the pressure defense the Knights imposed, creating 32 Elk River turnovers, including 11 from their leading scorer Gracik.
Van Wyhe was a monster on the floor defensively. She finished the game with eight steals. The Knights as a team finished with 22 steals.
“Natalie has been steady for us all year long,” Hamre said. “She was so composed for us and she’s a luxury that I’ve enjoyed having run the show for us. It’s really been nice.”
Van Wyhe finished second in scoring to Autio’s team-high 13 points. Tracy also had 12 for the Knights. The freshman forward said she enjoyed butting heads with Elk River’s other top freshman.
“I had a lot of fun,” Tracy said. “I don’t have much history with (Scheid), but it was good to play against someone my own age.”
Knights face top-seed Hopkins at state
Much to the chagrin of Hamre and the entire STMA girls’ basketball team, the Knights found out Sunday their state quarterfinal opening-round opponent was No. 1-ranked Hopkins (results of this game played at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning at Target Center conflicted with Tuesday’s deadline).
The Knights (24-5) lost to the Royals (28-1) 79-50 in a game played Feb. 16 at Hopkins. The QRF rankings, which mimic the section playoff seeding process, do not come into play when rounding out the state tournament brackets.
Hopkins, led by senior All-American forward Nia Coffey, rightfully got the state’s top seed. They were followed by No. 2 seed Bloomington Kennedy, No. 3 Eastview, No. 4 Osseo and No. 5 St. Paul Central.
Anoka (20-9) somehow avoided the opening round matchup with the Royals, despite finishing the season with four more losses than the Knights and STMA defeated the Tornadoes 53-45 on Feb. 1.
The Knights – ranked No. 8 in the end of season QRF rankings – were rated higher than seeded St. Paul Central as well as both Anoka and Rochester Mayo.
“I’m so tired of getting hosed,” said Hamre, after finding out last Sunday his team would be facing No. 1 Hopkins. “They don’t take QRF into consideration at all. They have to fix the system.”