Park girls basketball: Wolfpack no match for No. 1 Eastview in final
Before the Section 3AAAA girls basketball championship game, Park head coach Stephanie Tolkinen said No. 1-ranked Eastview was a well-oiled machine.
In the final, they were the Terminator.
Top-seeded Eastview (28-1) set the tone early in a 65-39 win over second-seeded Park (21-7) on Thursday, March 13, at Hamline University’s Hutton Arena in St. Paul.
“I can’t believe we just got drilled,” Tolkinen said. “I really expected it to be a closer game. I really thought we’d come out on top this time. We’re a really good team. It’s no fluke we were rated No. 5. We really felt like it was our time and we were ready to get a championship this year.”
It marked the third straight year Eastview ended Park’s season in the Section 3AAAA championship – and a game shy of the basketball program’s first-ever state tournament berth.
Park senior Temi Ogunrinde was handed Park’s third second-place trophy following the game, but didn’t look happy about it.
“I so badly wanted to break it right there,” Ogunrinde said. “I didn’t want it. We already have two at our school. It sucks, because we envisioned having the blue ribbons around our necks and holding that first-place trophy for the first time.”
From the opening tip Eastview seemed to do anything it wanted, while Park struggled to execute offensively and defensively. With an early barrage of 3-pointers and layups, the Lightning opened up a 13-2 lead just over 5 minutes into the championship game and had control at the half, 27-11.
Eastview superstar junior Madison Guebert and senior guard Kari Opatz led the Lightning with 11 points each at the break. Park’s Temi Ogunrinde led the Wolfpack with four points, while leading scorer Sydney Lamberty was held to one point.
“Right off the bat they were hitting shots and on the other end we couldn’t get anything,” Tolkinen said. “We couldn’t get shots down or the balls to drop even when we got to the rim. It seemed like an uphill climb the whole night.”
The second half was more of the same.
Guebert and Co., rained down more 3-pointers while Park struggled to convert. A 3-point play by Eastview senior Emee Udo made it a 37-17 game with 14:09 remaining. A jumper by Guebert with 9:52 left gave Eastview a 45-19 lead and pretty much took any remaining wind out of Park’s sails.
“Maybe the game was a little bit bigger for some of the kids than we thought it would be,” Tolkinen said. “Eastview is an excellent team. They’re No. 1 for a reason.”
Tolkinen said she believed Eastview’s two state tournament experiences helped their confidence. The Lightning finished third in the state last year.
“They are just so composed and so poised and we couldn’t knock them off of anything,” Tolkinen said. “I give them credit.”
Guebert led Eastview with a game-high 27 points and Opatz added 17.
Lamberty led Park with 19 points, but labored from the field going 2-for-14 on the night, while Ogunrinde scored eight points before fouling out with roughly five minutes to play.
“This sucks so bad. It’s heartbreaking,” Ogunrinde said. “We worked so hard for it. It’s hard to accept this is the way the season is ending. I love everyone on this team. It’s been a great season. I just wanted it so badly. I know the coaches did too, as bad as we did. It hurts a lot we didn’t get it for them.”
The lopsided loss ended an otherwise stellar year for Park, which finished ranked fifth in the state after the regular season and won the Suburban East Conference championship.
It was Park’s first conference championship since 2008.
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.
“When I first came into the program we were terrible,” Ogunrinde said. “We transformed this program. It’s a blessing to know we helped make it what it was. I’ll never regret that. It’s just this one thing would’ve made it perfect. This is the one thing I wanted since my sophomore year. We had three chances and blew all three.”
The Wolfpack’s group of current seniors had a lot to do with rebuilding a winning program the past three years, Tolkinen said. Park now graduates seven seniors from the final roster – Lamberty, Ogunrinde, Emily Burazin, Jaclyn Glazier, Molly Swanson, Danielle Myers and Mallorie Briggs.
“They’re a huge reason why our program is where it is now,” Tolkinen said. “The success we’ve had is because these kids have been committed on the court and off the court. Their commitment to become better basketball players has been tremendous. They’re a great group of kids – they like each other and have fun together. They’ve made this such an enjoyable season. That’s why it’s so painful because we really wanted it for these kids.”