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Class 4A feature: Belief in magic

By Michael Rand, Star Tribune, 03/15/11, 7:26PM CDT


The suddenly potent Tornadoes now will face defending champ Lakeville North

Apiew Ojulu, right looked for a shot in the lane during a December game. Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

The little engine that could is about to meet the freight train that almost always does.

In one of the most unique matchups in recent girls’ basketball state tournament memory, defending Class 4A champion Lakeville North — which has won 24 consecutive games this season and went undefeated a year ago — will take on Anoka, which was 2-24 heading into the section playoffs before embarking on a buzz-worthy four-game winning streak to make state.

Anoka athletic director John Baufield called the Tornadoes’ unlikely ascension from the No. 9 seed to Section 7 champions “the perfect storm.” But Lakeville North coach Andy Berkvam, who scouted Anoka during its section semifinal victory last week, is not surprised. He might have two-time Metro Player of the Year Rachel Banham on his side, but he is not taking the Tornadoes lightly.

“We’re very impressed with their freshmen,” Berkvam said. “They’re playing with no fear. We are not overlooking them.”

In fact, he said this year’s young Anoka squad reminds him a little of Lakeville North’s 2007 team, which qualified for state with Banham playing as an eighth-grader (and scoring a team-high 17 points in a quarterfinal loss) while now-graduated star Cassie Rochel had 14 as a freshman.

Of course, that Lakeville North team entered the state tournament with 20 victories; Anoka has six after winning (so far) twice as many playoff games as regular-season games. Sometimes the maturation process takes longer than others.

“I knew the freshman class was special,” Anoka coach James Fassett said. “But again, they’re freshmen.”

The freshman who perhaps made the biggest leap in the playoffs was forward Claire Lundberg. Her season high during the regular season was 15 points; in the playoffs, she set a new high every game: 16, 18, 21 and then 22 as the Tornadoes rolled through Section 7.

“I think we’ve just gotten more confidence as we’ve gone through the season,” Lundberg said.

Added guard and fellow freshman Kyhra Fredenburg, who had back-to-back 19-point games in the section semifinals and finals to set and tie a season high: “We’re finally starting to believe in ourselves.”

The Tornadoes will need all the belief they can muster against Lakeville North. The Panthers are the No. 3 seed — the top four teams are seeded, and their quarterfinal opponents are chosen by random draw — but they enter the tournament 27-2 and without a loss since Dec. 10.

Now Lakeville North will try to end the season of a team that only had one victory after Dec. 7 — until the playoffs.

“It’s a fun story, but hopefully it ends [Wednesday],” Berkvam said. He paused and added, “If it doesn’t, there’s going to be real interest.”

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