CLASS A STATE: Cardinals shoot past Red Lake
MINNEAPOLIS — Home to the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s hockey team, Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis can be an uneasy place to shoot a basketball.
Cromwell-Wright demonstrated that a season ago, when their girls basketball program advanced to their first state tournament in 12 years by making 317 3-pointers on their way southbound. At Mariucci, however, they were 7-of-28 from beyond the arc — or just 25 percent.
Back on campus Thursday, the Cardinals put on a clinic.
Cromwell-Wright more than doubled their shooting clip from downtown last March as they went 13-for-25 from deep on their way past Red Lake 71-41 in a Class A quarterfinal.
In fact, the Cardinals’ 13 triples tied a single-game state tournament record with New Richland-H-E-G, when the Panthers poured in a baker’s dozen in 2014. Cromwell-Wright’s Chelsea Swatek made the milestone long ball, while school’s all-time leading scorer finished with a game-high 23 points.
“That was a lot better than last year, for sure,” said Swatek outside of the locker room afterward. “We were all on tonight, I think.”
If that weren’t enough records on the evening, the third-seeded Cardinals (26-4) also set a single season best by extending their yearlong total of 3’s to a dizzying 327. Waconia had the previous mark of 325 makes in 2014. Cromwell-Wright’s Taya Hakamaki sank this record-book shot from the left wing in front of her team’s bench with 11:38 to play.
When asked about it afterward, the freshman — who finished with 16 points — was quick to answer.
“I didn’t know that,” she said with a smile. “We always have the green light. All five of us can shoot.”
Case in point: while Hakamaki had four 3’s, Swatek sank four and senior Bailey Gronner tallied three. Taya’s older sister, Teana, and cousin, Shaily, also added in one apiece.
By halftime, the Cardinals had cruised to a 46-15 advantage and were 9-of-16 — more than 56 percent — from trifecta land. They averaged a 3-point make every two minutes.
“It’s pretty tough to hang with a team that shoots the light outs,” said Red Lake coach Randy Holthusen. “Everything that they put up was money.”
While Holthusen’s group couldn’t keep pace with the Cardinals, it was to be expected. The unrated Warriors (24-3) were playing in their first-ever state tournament game and looked every bit the part early. Though they outscored Cromwell-Wright 26-25 in the second half, the hill the Cardinals created was simply just too high.
“We didn’t have our edge,” Holthusen said. “But my hat goes off to Cromwell.”
“It’s the best shooting team I’ve ever been around,” added Cardinals coach Jeff Gronner, Bailey’s father. “There aren’t too many teams that can put five girls on the floor that can shoot it like that.”
That said, the fifth-year coach doesn’t hesitate to allow his girls to shoot. Averaging over 40 percent as a team all winter, including more than that Thursday, why would you?
“That’s how we shoot,” Gronner said. “And every game, it’s someone different leading us.”
Gronner — who also took the town’s football team to last November’s state tournament at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis — pulled the reins in on his crew during a timeout with 7:57 to play, as the Cardinals didn’t connect on another triple throughout the rest of the evening.
Gronner was asked afterward if he was aware that his team was one more make away from setting a state tournament record.
“I didn’t know about that,” he admitted, “but I didn’t care. I just cared about that W.”
And that’s what they got, having waited for their redemption ever since their one-and-done performance last March in a 70-55 loss to Wheaton/Herman-Norcross.
“We definitely realized when had to come out more ready than we did last year,” said Swatek, owner of more than 1,900 points in her career. “I think when we get in the groove, we all just keep feeding off each other.”
“We didn’t want to fall behind,” added Hakamaki. “We wanted to start off strong.”
The small school of just 76 students hopes that continues tomorrow, Friday, when the Cardinals clash with second-seeded Goodhue (26-4) at 2 p.m. at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. The test doesn’t get any harder than the Wildcats, Class A’s defending champs.
“We weren’t happy just being down here,” said Gronner. “Our focus was to be over at the Barn and now we’re going there.”
And Hakamaki said they aren’t afraid of the reigning title holders. After all, the teenager has her own heated gym at their home just off of Highway 210. She said she took 500 shots this week to prepare.
And by the looks of it, many of them likely went in. She only wishes that will be the same Friday.
“That’s a light week,” she said with a smile. “We can all shoot.”