Park girls basketball: Wolfpack reaches Section 3AAAA championshipPark beat East Ridge and Apple Valley in the first two rounds of the section playoffs, respectively, to earn a trip to its first section final since 2008.
By: Patrick Johnson, Sports Editor, South Washington County Bulletin
After reaching their first section final in four years, the Park girls basketball team engaged in a joyous celebration on the hardwood court at Hamline University in St. Paul.
But, the celebration the team has been dreaming about could happen this week.
Park beat East Ridge and Apple Valley in the first two rounds of the section playoffs, respectively, to earn a trip to its first section final since 2008. The second-seeded Wolfpack will now face top-seeded Eastview in the Section 3AAAA championship on Thursday, March 8, at Hamline, for a trip to the state tournament. Park has never sent a girls basketball team to state.
Head coach Stephanie Tolkinen said the goal all year was to prepare for the section final.
“That’s how I tried to set up the non-conference schedule, so we could kind of see where we were at,” she said.
In the Section 3AAAA semifinal win over Apple Valley, on Saturday, March 2, at Hamline, Park overcame a 10-point deficit in the second half, outscoring the fourth-seeded Eagles 34-24 in the second half for the 59-55 win.
“It was a very exciting game,” Tolkinen said. “I was proud of our girls for playing hard and never giving up. I think we could have doubted ourselves, but they believed in each other and kept fighting. They played through and things eventually started to go our way.”
A key moment in the game came midway through the second half when Apple Valley was called for a technical foul resulting in a six-point swing.
“We scored, then hit both technical free throws, got the ball and scored again,” Tolkinen said. “That gave us some momentum and we built on that. Apple Valley didn’t really have an answer. Once we took the lead we didn’t give it up. That was a big turning point.”
Park junior guard Larissa Lurken led the way in the win with a game-high 26 points. Sophomore guard Sydney Lamberty scored 19 points and senior center Jenna Joswiak netted seven points.
To reach the semifinals, Park topped a pesky East Ridge squad 56-36 on Wednesday, Feb. 29, in the team’s final home game of the year.
Park took a 23-17 halftime lead in the game and outscored the Raptors 33-19 in the second half on the way to the 20-point win.
It was Park’s third win over East Ridge this season.
Three players scored in double figures for the Wolfpack in the game. Lurken had a game-high 18 points, Joswiak scored 14 points and senior Rachel Kothe netted 10 points. In addition, sophomore Temi Ogunrinde chipped in eight points.
The matchup with Eastview, which is ranked 10th in the state, is one many saw coming for a long time – from as distant as last year.
Last spring the Minnesota State High School League realigned its section placements for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years. The minor adjustments had a major impact on the Park girls basketball team. The changes meant Park wouldn’t have to contend with two-time defending section champion Lakeville North in Section 3AAAA. Both Lakeville North and Lakeville South were both moved to Section 1AAAA and East Ridge and Henry Sibley were moved into Section 3AAAA. Sans Lakeville North, many viewed Eastview as the new team to beat in Section 3AAAA.
Back on Dec. 1, in its third game of the year, Park lost 62-49 to the Lightning in an early-season test.
“I told the girls back then that these were the two teams that were going to be in the section final. I really believed that. ” Tolkinen said. “I think the girls believed that too and had it in mind that we wanted to get to this game. I think we’re a different team than we were in December.”
In Park’s last Section 3AAAA championship, Eastview was the team to upset the Jackie Voigt-led Wolfpack. Park is looking to turn the tables on the Lightning this year.
“We have a little history, at least with myself and our program, but none of our girls were a part of that team,” Tolkinen said. “They were probably still in junior high. But, they may have been at that section final game when we lost. We really thought that was our chance to get to state, but we didn’t play our best game. Now, we feel that Eastview is a very quality team, but we feel like we’re pretty good too.”