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State Tourney Insiders: Sights and sounds from the girls hockey championships

JV call-ups helped Edina grow

When asked about a turning point this season, or a spot when the Edina players thought finishing the year as state champs was a possibility, senior defenseman Taylor Porthan was very specific: "Dec. 5, 2023."

The Hornets had lost 2-1 to Hill-Murray — the team they eventually defeated for a state title — and then 5-2 in the next game to section rival Benilde-St. Margaret's, on Dec. 5. The Hornets had "a nice long talk" that night after the home game.

"I think we were at Braemar until 11 p.m. maybe," Cowger said.

It was also about that time that Cowger decided to bring up three junior varsity players to the varsity squad: sophomore forwards Brenna Prellwitz and Charlotte Theirl and senior forward Afton Maiser.

Senior defenseman and co-captain Nora McConnell said those moves "completely brought the team chemistry together." She referred to those three players as "true locker-room people" and some of the best teammates she's had.

McConnell credited Cowger for the move, while Cowger noted that it was part of the "little learning lessons" her Hornets experienced along the way this season.

"When we brought them up, it was kind of a shift of lineup entirely for our team," Cowger said. "Just to kind of kick them into gear a little bit."

Prellwitz, for one, came up huge at state. She scored the winning goal against Minnetonka in the semifinals.

"She's got a really cool story to tell here for years to come," Cowger said.

Pohl praises goaltender Grace Zhan

Edina scored a couple of highlight-reel goals that beat Hill-Murray goaltender Grace Zhan, who was the Star Tribune's All-Metro first-team pick. Hill-Murray coach John Pohl called her the "star of the tournament."

"An amazing goaltender who has incredible, tons of high-level hockey in front of her, and things that are going to impact the world," Pohl said.

Zhan will head to Dartmouth for hockey and a biomedical engineering major next year.

"She may save all of our lives someday with an invention or something that she does," Pohl said.

Rotation puts Edina goalie Reese McConnell in big spot

In the past four state tournaments, Edina had its goaltender set: Uma Corniea.

This season, coach Sami Cowger noted, is the first time she's had two goaltenders — juniors Nora Hannan and Reese McConnell — she could start and be confident the job would get done. When Hannan was away this season with the United States' U18 team, McConnell had to step up in some huge games, "and she made a name for herself," Cowger said.

The Hornets alternated their netminders in the section tournament. Hannan got the nod for the section final against Benilde-St. Margaret's, so Cowger kept the rotation going at state, having McConnell start the quarterfinal, a 5-0 shutout.

"She proved herself entirely in that game against Northfield, and at that point I wasn't looking back," Cowger said. "I just knew we had to roll her."

Reese's older sister, senior defenseman Nora McConnell, said she couldn't be more proud of her sister.

"Honestly, I'm just happy that my coaches put some trust in her, and I think that she truly, truly deserves this," Nora said. "I think it's a hell of a way to go out being that I'm a senior and she's got one more year left."

Saturday night, Edina assistant coach Casey Purpur grabbed the game puck and awarded it to McConnell after her ninth shutout of the season; she finishes the year 15-2-0 with a 0.87 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.

"She 100% deserves it," Cowger said.

Try Class 2A? Warroad is happy right where it's at

Naysayers wonder whether Warroad, despite its enrollment of 294 students, has outgrown Class 1A. From a success factor, they might have a point.

On Saturday, the Warriors became the second girls hockey team in Class 1A history to post a three-peat. Breck was the first to win three in a row in Class 1A (2018-20).

Only two other teams can match that sustained success: Minnetonka (2011-13) and Edina (2017-19). Both of those large metro-area schools reside in Class 2A.

"When there's 1,700 people in our town, I think Class 1A is our spot," Warriors assistant coach Layla Marvin said. Her father, Warroad head coach Dave Marvin, did not attend the news conference. "We're a small town. I think Roseau moved up and kind of figured that out for us, honestly."

Junior forward Kaiya Sandy said: "It's a new team each year, so I feel like you can't really base that off past success. You've got to look forward."

With three seniors on the roster, Warroad appears primed to go for it all again.

"It doesn't get old," Layla Marvin said. "It's not easy to win, and we've gotten a lot out of our girls when it mattered most this year."

Attendance hits new high

Saturday's attendance was 5,021, the first time the championship session in its current format has surpassed 5,000. That goes back to 2015.

The previous high was 4,936 in 2020.

Who's missing? Who cares?

Warroad graduated 10 seniors last season, including its top three scorers: Rylee Bartz (59 goals, 107 points), Talya Hendrickson (38 goals, 101 points) and Kate Johnson (38 goals, 98 points). That's 65% of the team's goals from the 2023 championship team. Bartz is now at St. Thomas; Hendrickson and Johnson play for Bemidji State.

Other players had to step up this year. Even though Warroad has won three state championships in a row and five titles overall, this one is special, said junior Kaiya Sandy, who led her team this year with 27 assists.

"This one's different than the other times," Sandy said. "Mostly just for myself, personally, how I play really matters. We don't have Talya, Kate, Bartz to do it for us. We need to take it upon ourselves and step into our role and put the puck in the net ourselves."

Warroad did that with a variety of scorers. Four different players scored a goal in Saturday's title game.

"I don't think any of us expected this to happen," Layla Marvin said. "But we're so, so excited to bring another banner home to Warroad."

Similar seeds, similar results

A prominent coach wasn't subtle when the girls hockey state tournament seeds this season looked a lot like last season's.

Minnetonka was the No. 1 seed in Class 2A for the second consecutive year, and again it drew arguably the most challenging unseeded team (Maple Grove this season) in the quarterfinals. Other parallels: No. 3 Andover again was assigned the unseeded team with the worst record (Rosemount this year). Edina drew the Section 1 champion (Northfield this time), and the Section 4 champion (No. 2 seed Hill-Murray this year) was paired against the Section 8 representative (Roseau this time).

All that caused Minnetonka coach Tracy Cassano to say: "The whole process should be more transparent. It does make you question the High School League system when no one sees anything." After her team fell to Edina on Friday after defeating Maple Grove 2-1 in the quarterfinals, she raised the issue again. "If we would have had a little more left in the tank … if you play a one-goal game in the first round, it affects your team," she said.

What did those seeding similarities lead to beyond Minnetonka getting beat in the semifinals for the second year in a row? The fourth seed, Edina, won 5-0 in the quarterfinals. Hill-Murray reached the final from Section 4 after routing Roseau 8-2 in the quarterfinals. Andover rolled Rosemount 6-0 in the quarterfinals. The only team that didn't win by at least five goals in the quarterfinals was Minnetonka.

Last year it was eventual champion Gentry Academy that sunk Minnetonka in the semifinals. Gentry opened with a 7-0 shutout of fifth seed Moorhead while Minnetonka was tested 3-2 by Centennial/Spring Lake Park.

Perhaps this is wearing on the Skippers. In the six consecutive seasons that Minnetonka reached the state tournament, the Skippers have reached only one state championship game, with five semifinal losses coming against the eventual state champion.

Another seeding parallel: For the second consecutive tournament, the No. 2 and No. 4 seeds met in the Class 2A championship game.

Southern tracks

Dodge County made a statement for south-of-the-metro hockey by reaching the Class 1A final. Only New Prague in 2004 did it previously, losing the 1A final 6-2 to Benilde-St. Margaret's.

Two boys hockey teams from south of the metro have won state championships: Rochester John Marshall in 1977 and Red Wing in 1997 (Class 1A).

Herb Brooks Award winners

Samantha Peterson of Roseau won the Class 2A Herb Brooks Award, and Willmar's Rebecca Dawson won in Class 1A. The Herb Brooks Award is given to a player who embodies the traits held by the legendary coach.

Class 2A consolation bracket

Cassano spoke with senior captains Lindzi Avar and Kendra Distad after Friday's loss to Edina and tried to ease the pain of holding the No. 1 seed in two consecutive state tournaments yet failing to escape the semifinals.

"I just told them that I loved them, I'm proud of them and it's OK," Cassano told the media Friday night. "They both looked at me and said, 'It's not OK.' "

The Skippers did something about it Saturday, regrouping to win the third-place game 5-3 against Andover. Special teams made the difference. Minnetonka converted on five of its 13 power-play opportunities in the victory — including a hat trick from senior defender and captain Lauren Goldsworthy.

Maple Grove, unseeded in the tournament field, concluded its "no respect tour" by winning the consolation title. Three of the Crimson's four goals came on the power play in a 4-1 defeat of Roseau.

Class 1A consolation bracket

Orono junior forward Zoe Lopez potted a pair of goals to clinch the Spartans' 3-2 victory in the Class 1A third-place game. The second goal came with 27 seconds remaining. Orono finished the season 22-7-1.

In the consolation game, Proctor/Hermantown took home hardware thanks to a 5-2 defeat of Willmar. The Mirage built a 3-0 lead after the first period.

Numbers

14: Shutouts for Edina this season, including two in the state tournament. The Hornets outscored opponents 35-6 in six postseason games.

5 Goals allowed by Dodge County, equaling its worst day of the season. The Wildcats gave up five in a 5-4 overtime loss to Orono on Jan. 20.

5: State titles for Edina in eight state tournaments since 2017, the first year of its three-peat. The Hornets also won in 2021.

4: Fourth seeds, Warroad and Edina, won both the Class 1A and Class 2A state titles. It's the second year in a row the fourth seed won the Class 2A title. Gentry Academy won in 2023.

3 Since 2018, only three girls hockey programs have won Class 1A championships: Breck (2018-20), Proctor/Hermantown (2021) and Warroad (2022-24). Warroad also won back-to-back titles in 2010-11.

1 Warroad's string of three titles marks the first three-peat in Class 1A girls hockey. In Class 2A, Edina won three straight from 2017-19 and Minnetonka won from 2011-13.