Class A State Tournament Preview
South St. Paul steps up big to reach its 17th state tournament
Monday, February 20, 2023
If anyone was to question the popularity and interest in girls hockey, a trip last Thursday to Veterans Memorial Community Center in Inver Grove Heights would have quieted their skepticism.
Cars circled the massive parking lot well after the opening faceoff in search of an open spot, with vehicles parked blocks away, bumper-to-bumper up on hard-packed snow banks.
Inside the arena, the excitement and energy pulsated throughout the building, with fans encircling the rink and stacked to the rafters in a true instance of standing room only.
After an intense and scoreless first period, Simley senior Mackaylan McGown broke through with the game’s first goal early in the second. Simley fans erupted in jubilation and it appeared the top-seeded Spartans may well be on their way to an inaugural trip to state.
Packers sophomore Lily Pachl leads the state in scoring among defenders with 53 points. Photo by Arnie Hamel
But just like Simley’s idyllic season, things would quickly turn sour.
Down 1-0 entering the final period, Dave Palmquist’s South St. Paul Packers showed they still had plenty left to give. In a dominating third period assault, the Packers left the Spartans and their fans slumped, shocked and dejected.
Final score: Packers 4, Simley 1.
“The rivalry has been pretty intense all the way back 25 years ago,” said Packers coach Dave Palmquist. “It’s gotten more intense these last few years. It’s a big rivalry game but it kinda got a little crazy. We knew it was gonna be tough and that’s why I’m so proud of the girls to go in there and find a way to win.”
When sophomore Alida Ahern scored six minutes into the third period to tie the game 1-1, the Packers suddenly had their rocket fuel and took off. “It was really a great forechecking play by Sarah Wincentsen who threw it hard at the net,” said Palmquist. “Alida was able to be right there and squeak one through her pads and that just changed the whole game.”
Ahern would then score again exactly six minutes later with what proved to be the game-winner.
South St. Paul scored four times in the third period to defeat top-seeded Simley 4-1.
Photo by Arnie Hamel
For Simley coach Tom Patnode’s squad, which includes his senior daughter Olivia, multiple sets of sisters and a core group who came up through the youth ranks together, the school’s first-ever trip to state was ultimately not meant to be.
Simley’s dream-like regular season – in which they had won 18 of their final 19 games – first began to unravel when star senior forward Ella Tuccitto was suspended for two weeks, essentially ending her high school hockey career. Tuccitto had 37 goals and teamed with linemate Mackaylan McGown to form one of the most potent one-two punches in the state this season.
“When you’re missing a player like Ella Tuccitto, who is gonna have the puck a lot, she’s gonna be deep in South St. Paul’s zone and you’re gonna wear some people down and, frankly, that’s what happened in our first two meetings,” said Patnode.” And the outcome was a 3-1 and a 4-1 victory for that reason. You take that player out and we lost a little gas.”
Simley senior forward Ella Tuccitto scored 37 goals during the regular season, but was suspended for two weeks prior to the team's loss to South St. Paul in the Section 4A championship game. Photo by Arnie Hamel
Details are sketchy and privacy is being respected, but for a team and school enjoying their best season ever, Tuccitto’s suspension is devastating. What began to unfold as the culmination of a dream, with a first-ever trip to the state tournament, has ended in painful disappointment for the Spartans.
“It’s certainly not a situation that we wanted to see,” said Palmquist. “It was really unfortunate; you always want to play against their best.”
McGown and Tuccitto may take some solace in knowing they plan to continue playing together in college next year at Concordia University in Wisconsin.
The Spartans once-promising season ended with a 21-5-1 record.
Said Patnode of his team; “They did everything right this year to give themselves the ability to have a chance, and the timing of everything just doesn’t feel very good.”
-Arnie Hamel, Editor
Class A State Tournament preview
Kamryn Van Batavia (center) and the Luverne Cardinals are back for their fourth consecutive appearance at the state tournament. Photo by Greg Hoogeveen
By Lauren McQuillan and Arnie Hamel
As the 2023 Girls Class A State Tournament gets underway, we see many familiar faces this year. Seven of the eight teams in Class A are making a repeat appearance.
Powerful Warroad looks to win their second consecutive state championship this year. Proctor/Hermantown, Orono, South St. Paul, Luverne, Mankato East, and Albert Lea are all back for another try. The lone newcomer, Fergus Falls, punched their ticket to the Xcel Energy Center with a 2-1 overtime win over River Lakes. The Otters last made it to state in 2019.
Yet, one big question persists: will any team be able to conjure up the magic – and puck luck – to play their best game of the year and take down the powerful defending champions from Warroad?
Quarterfinal pairings (Wednesday)
2A Mankato East Cougars 20-6-0 vs. 7A Proctor/Hermantown Mirage 19-6-2 (2)
McKenzie Keller (21) leads the Mankato East Cougars back to the state tournament.
Photo by Arnie Hamel
Mankato East has had an impressive season. The Cougars lost zero players to graduation last year and only five players on their roster are making their state debut.
“I would say I'm most proud of their resiliency in the last few months,” coach Amber Prange explains. Her Cougars have been a target for most teams they play, as East has found themselves in the top 10-15 in the state throughout the year.
“Up and down the roster they have continued to grow their passion and competitive drive for the game and will not go away quietly in St. Paul,” added Prange.
The Cougars will try to keep up with the deep and talented Proctor/Hermantown Mirage, whose six losses have been to AA teams, and Warroad twice. It’s a tall order, though East was here last year and does have some firepower of their own.
“We scrimmaged Proctor at the beginning of last year, " said Prange. “This is the speed we’re going to have to be if we’re going to compete at a higher level.”
Senior McKenzie Keller (27-30–57) leads the Cougar offense, along with junior Jess Eykyn (19-12–31). Senior Goaltender Anna Rader (1.20 GAA, .945 SV%) has ten shutouts and recently became the winningest goalie in school history.
The Mirage will be making their sixth state tournament appearance and are led offensively by junior Hannah Graves (14-21–35), Reese Heitzman (18-11–29), Izzy Fairchild (16-10–26) and Nya Seiger (7-17–24), among others.
Ava Anick and Sophie Parendo are the top defenders in front of the Mirage goalie rotation of Suri Langley (1.62 GAA, .923 SV%) and Neelah McLeod (1.95 GAA, .916 SV%).
Janjet predicts: Proctor/Hermantown 5, Mankato East 2
3A Luverne Cardinals 21-6-0 vs. 5A Orono Spartans 20-3-4 (3)
Orono sophomore Kali Schmidt is among six Spartans with at least 30 points on the season.
Photo by Arnie Hamel
Is there anyone in the girls hockey community who hasn’t heard of Luverne senior Kam Van Batavia? The senior has an impressive 449 career points, just 19 short of breaking the state record for most career points (Natalie Darwitz, 468).
“Kam is an outstanding offensive force that has guided our program to four straight state tournament appearances,” said Luverne coach Tony Sandbulte. “Kam's positive energy and effort flow throughout the entire team.”
“Mallory Von Tersch is our backstop and is willing to do what's best for the team,” explained coach Sandbulte. “Last year she skated out as a defenseman, and this year she was able to be a leader in the net.” Last year Von Tersch had 17 points from the blueline.
Offensively, Luverne is led by Van Batavia (59-20–79) and linemate Payton Behr (17-32-49).
The Cardinals are still seeking their first victory in St. Paul. “Our biggest message is we just want to have a high compete level and effort all the time,” said Sandbulte, “and if we do that we feel we can skate with anybody.”
The Orono Spartans are making their second straight state appearance, this time led by head coach Larry Olimb. The Spartans have a very well-rounded team. “This team's assets are skating ability, depth, and goaltending,” said Olimb.
The Spartans are on a 12-0-2 roll and allowed just one goal in three section playoff games. Senior goaltender Celia Dahl (1.21 GAA, .933 SV%) has eleven shutouts and was named a Senior Goalie of the Year semifinalist. Junior defender Grace Bickett (5-31–36) is the leader from the blueline and quarterback of the power play.
Up front Orono is young and explosive, with sophomore Zoe Lopez (34-12–46) and freshman Maddy Kimbrell (18-25–43) leading the attack. Orono is fast and disciplined and was dominant in their section wins over highly ranked foes Mound-Westonka and Holy Angels.
Janjet Predicts: Orono 5, Luverne 2
1A Albert Lea Tigers 18-7-1 vs. 8A Warroad Warriors 23-3-1 (1)
Warroad senior forward Kate Johnson is part of the highest scoring line in the state this season. Photo by Arnie Hamel
The Tigers return to St. Paul for the second straight season following a 3-2 overtime upset over Dodge County in the 1A championship game. Albert Lea is very young, led offensively by freshmen Mika Cichosz (15-13–28) and Shelby Evans (16-10–26), and seventh grader Morgan Goskeson (23-5–28).
Tigers goaltenders Jayda Moyer and Rachel Doppelhammer have solid stats, both have played this season with Moyer (11-5-1, 1.79 GAA, .927 SV%, 2 SO) getting the majority of the games. Both goalies allow under 2.00 goals per game.
For Warroad, the Division I-bound line of seniors Kate Johnson (Bemidji State), Talya Hendrickson (Bemidji State) and Rylee Bartz (St. Thomas) combined for 275 points this season, and very few have been able to slow the Warroad scoring machine.
Last year, Bartz played in Fargo, ND where she led the state in points and ended up committing to St. Thomas. Bartz was also named a Ms. Hockey semifinalist.
The defending champion Warriors will be far too much for the Tigers to contend with.
So while the future looks bright for the young Tigers, things will get lopsided in a hurry this Wednesday.
Janjet predicts: Warroad 8, Albert Lea 0
6A Fergus Falls Otters 22-4-1 (5) vs. 4A South St. Paul Packers 21-5-1 (4)
Fergus Falls eighth grade defender Maggie Greenagel has 13 points for the Otters this season.
Photo by Heather Dirkman
The 4 versus 5 game is often the best of the first day and the Otters and Packers will not disappoint. The Packers looked tourney-tough in their impressive 4A final win over Simley and Fergus is a cool 14-0-1 since Dec. 18.
For South St. Paul it starts with senior goalie Delaney Norman (1.30 GAA, .938 SV%), who has seven shutouts. Sophomore defender Lily Pachl leads the state in scoring among blueliners with 53 points and has 10 powerplay goals. Senior Sarah Wincentsen (21-28–49) and sophomore Bailey Vesper (19-30–49) lead the offense.
“Our strength is our team's closeness and true caring about each other,” says Packers head coach Dave Palmquist. “For some of them this is their third state tournament in four years, and so that experience, knowing what’s going to take place in the next week, it does help them prepare mentally.”
The Otters have senior forwards Maddie Hulter (29-32–61) and Tyra Skjeret (20-24–44) leading the offense. Juniors Lexi Metcalf (1.33 GAA, .913 SV%) and Ana Jyrkas (1.22 GAA, .933 SV%) rotate in goal. Fergus Falls has been particularly frugal defensively of late, surrendering just seven goals in their past ten games.
“Hopefully our forecheck can work but I know they’re a good team,” said Otters head coach Tim Lill. “You know Palmquist’s teams, he’s a legend, so I’m sure they’re gonna be good.”
Janjet predicts: Fergus Falls 3, South St. Paul 2 (OT)
Proctor/Hermantown 4, Orono 3 (OT)
Warroad 4, Fergus Falls 0
Class A Championship
Warroad 5, Proctor/Hermantown 3
Lauren McQuillan can be reached at email@example.com
|8.||Centennial / SLP||7.800|
|10.||Benilde - St. Margaret's||7.704|