The Park girls basketball team put itself back on top.
The Wolfpack, ranked as the fifth best big school in the state, won a share of the Suburban East Conference championship title.
With wins over Woodbury and Hastings, coupled with a loss by White Bear Lake, the Wolfpack tied the Bears for first place in the SEC with 15-3 records. It’s Park’s first conference championship since 2008. Last year, Park finished 23-6 overall and 15-3 in the Suburban East Conference, which was good for second place behind Roseville.
“Our kids deserve this,” Park head coach Stephanie Tolkinen said. “I am very happy for our seniors. They have been committed to this program as long as they have been here. They have been major contributors to the success of our program and are a great group of girls and will be greatly missed next year.”
After winning the conference championship in 2008, Park slumped to 4-21 in 2008-09 and 3-24 in 2009-10. However, the Wolfpack has recaptured its form, going 77-34 over the last four seasons and now returning to the very top of the Suburban East.
“We have come close in the past few years, but didn’t get the championship,” Tolkinen said. “Our kids have worked very hard this season and we knew we could have a good chance to get it.”
Park (19-6; 15-3 SEC) beat Woodbury 70-43 on Tuesday, Feb. 25, in Cottage Grove, then finished off the regular season with a 74-40 win over Hastings on Friday at home.
In the win over Woodbury (6-20; 2-16 SEC) Park took a 38-22 halftime lead then outscored the Royals 32-21 in the second half, earning a sweep of the rival on the year. Park senior Sydney Lamberty scored a game-high 27 points in the win. Also, seniors Temi Ogunrinde and Molly Swanson and junior Annie Williams each chipped in eight points apiece.
Against Hastings (2-23; 1-17 SEC) Park jumped out to a 41-21 lead at the half and cruised to the 34-point win.
Lamberty, who averaged 21.7 points per game on the year, scored a game-high 29 points. Sophomore center Ally Gorres scored 12 points and Williams netted eight points.
After starting the season 13-3, Park hit a road bump and lost three straight games. However, the Wolfpack won six consecutive games to end the regular season.
“After the loss to Cretin-Derham Hall which was our third loss in a row, we had to re-evaluate some things,” Tolkinen said. “Our kids have responded and we are playing some of our best basketball of the season. The bigger prize is still out there though.”
That bigger prize is a section championship and a trip to the state tournament. The Park girls basketball team has never reached state.
In Section 4AAAA, Eastview has stood in Park’s way of state the past two seasons. The Lightning tipped the Wolfpack in the section championship the past two years. Led by juniors Madison Guebert and Hana Metoxen, Eastview (25-1; 17-1 South Suburban) is ranked No. 1 in the state and the No. 1 seed in the section again this season.
Park, the No. 2 seed in the section begins the playoffs on Wednesday, March 5, when the Wolfpack welcome seventh-seeded Apple Valley (6-20; 5-13 South Suburban) to Cottage Grove.
“They are a very good seven seed,” Tolkinen said. “We have to come in ready to play.”