HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
February 26, 2006

Tournament time is unforgettable

By Matt Kane

We are right in the middle of state tournament season. Where the elite high school teams in the state step off their comfortable, intimate home courts and rinks and onto the unfamiliar surfaces of the big arenas in the big cities.

The lights always shine brighter during the state tournaments, and the risks and rewards of the competitions are always greater.

The ends of each high school athletic season always remind me of my one and only state tournament appearance as a high school athlete.

In 1994, as a junior, I rode the wave to second place in the Class A tournament with the Sauk Center baseball team.

The site of the tournament was Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud. Our team had played regular season games at Dick Putz against St. Cloud Cathedral, but, for some reason, the grass seemed greener and the infield dirt seemed much finer during the state tournament.

At least during warm-ups. That, and when we were given our medals, was the only time I saw the playing surface during state.

I never got off the bench in our three games — I was the backup first baseman to the backup first baseman — but that didn’t take anything away from the experience of my team playing for the heavy hardware.

We made a valiant comeback against Sibley East in the championship game, but missed out on taking home the blue-ribboned medals by three runs.

Just being in the state tournament is a prize in itself for teams not used to playing on the big stage. But, when state berths start happening more regularly for a school, the teams start aiming for more than just getting there.

Before the Delano dance team even left the high school for the state tournament Feb. 16-17 at the Xcel Energy Center, many of them expressed that they were just happy to be competing in the tournament. After their performances, the girls changed their intentions from just getting there to making the final six.

That attitude is, simply, the spirit of competition and the want to do better.

Once an athlete experiences a state tournament, there is nothing he or she wants more than to get back to the big dance and improve.

Winning is a very addictive drug.

Of course, the grand daddy of the winter state tournaments in Minnesota is the high school hockey tournaments.

I remember, as a high-schooler, doing whatever I could to get out of study halls so I could go to the library or my hockey coach’s classroom, where a television was broadcasting KSTP’s coverage of the boys’ hockey tournament.

As students at an out-state school, my friends and I were always pulling for Warroad and Roseau to knock off Edina and Bloomington Jefferson. And, every so often, it happened.

Even though I am not a high school athlete anymore, I am lucky enough, as a sports writer, to have opportunities to get on the state tournament floors with the athletes I now cover. I still get goose bumps when I enter the arena floors at the Xcel, or when I step on the deck at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

So far, I have covered state tournaments for wrestling, gymnastics, swimming, volleyball, football, track and field, weight lifting (in Florida), and, now, dance.

I am always amazed by the caliber of the athletes who play in the state tournaments, and the poise they show during and between games.

As I found out, it’s not easy watching the other team raise the championship trophy, but, there is still a bit of pride knowing my team had a chance at raising it.

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