Soaring season for Cards ends at state

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MINNEAPOLIS—Entering their Class A state quarterfinal game against Wheaton-Herman-Norcross last Thursday afternoon, coach Jeff Gronner’s Cromwell-Wright girls basketball team had hit a dizzying 317 3-pointers on the year.

But it was their opponent’s 2-pointers that were their kryptonite.

Briona Edwards scored a game-high 21 points, while teammates Jordan Stafford and Emma Schmidt added 11 each en route to scoring 48 points in the paint in the Warriors’ 70-55 win over the Cardinals at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.

Fifth-seeded Wheaton-Herman-Norcross (29-4), a small western Minnesota cooperative program making its first state appearance since Wheaton went in 1987, didn’t take long to get used to the home venue of the University of Minnesota’s hockey teams, scoring 15 of the first 20 points.

Much of that came from the hands of Edwards, a sophomore center — and at 5-foot-11, the tallest player on their team — who constantly got open looks at the rim against a much-smaller, less-physical Cromwell-Wright (27-4) club.

Edwards, who averaged just over eight points per contest all winter, erupted for 17 of her 21 in the first 18 minutes, as the Warriors totaled 34 points inside and led 38-26 at the half.

“We didn’t do a good job keeping them out of the paint,” Gronner said outside the locker rooms afterward. “I thought the second half we played better, but at the state tournament level, if you’re down 12 at the half, it’s hard to come back.”

The fourth-seeded Cardinals clawed within nine several times early in the second, but 20 turnovers and being out-rebounded 43-25 never let it get closer. Gronner’s daughter, Bailey, scored a team-best 19 points, as the junior hit five threes — several beyond the Minnesota Lynx’s WNBA arc.

Still, Cromwell-Wright, averaging nearly 80 points per affair, was held well-beneath their customary scoring mark.

“It starts with defense — we hang our hat on it,” said Wheaton-Herman-Norcross coach Tim Gail, whose No. 10 state-ranked Warriors only offer up around 36 points a game. “With our defense, we feel we can play with anybody. Defense wins championships. We’ve been doing it all year.”

Gail’s group ended up finishing fourth in the tournament, falling to eventual champ Goodhue in last Friday’s semifinals.

No. 9 Cromwell-Wright, though — having many teary-eyed hugs afterward — has nothing to frown about. They set a program record in victories, including season-bests in field goal, free-throw and 3-point percentage, all while returning the school of 76 students to state for the first time since 2004.

“They were the talk of the town,” Gronner said of last week’s buzz. “They have nothing to hang their heads about.”

“The community has supported us all the way through,” added Bailey Gronner. “This has been the best year I’ve had in any single sport. This whole season has just been amazing.”

When the final horn sounded and it was all over last week, Andrea Hakamaki was at the front of the handshake line. For the senior guard, it was her last game in Cromwell-Wright red. She shared her final season with her sister Amanda, and cousins Teana, Taya and Shaily — all on the varsity squad.

“I love this team so much,” said Andrea, eyes watering. “I’m just really grateful to have gotten to play with the team I have — all my cousins, my best friends.

“It’s been amazing,” she continued of a varsity career that began as an eighth-grader, five years ago. “It’s all bittersweet. It was a good journey — something just very memorable.”

Kiiera Anderson, one of three seniors along with Hakamaki and Olivia Cahoon, agreed with her classmate. She shared a huge hug with junior Chelsea Swatek at the buzzer.

“It was like something I’ve never experienced,” Anderson said of playing at state with all of her closest friends. “We would have liked to win, but we got there. That was our goal. It was the best season I could have asked for.”

Returning a cupboard full of talent for next winter, expect maybe even more of the same for the Cardinals — speed, chaos, threes and wins.

“They are going to be really good,” Anderson said.