Class 4A girls state basketball quarterfinal: St. Michael-Albertville 80, Eagan 60

Eagan coach Jesse Madsen is a realist.

As he glanced at the opposing bench of St. Michael-Albertville on Wednesday, he saw what he hopes his program will someday become — a perennial state tournament contender. Madsen knows the Wildcats aren’t there yet.

The 80-60 loss Wednesday’s Class 4A state quarterfinal to St. Michael-Albertville was proof of that. It was also evidence that eagan’s girls basketball program is on the right path.

“If you asked me five years ago if we’d be in the state tournament, I might giggle a little bit,” Madsen said. “We have come a long way.”

Wednesday’s game was Eagan’s first state tournament appearance in school history. Meanwhile, No. 2-seeded St. Michael-Albertville is looking for its third top-3 finish at the state tournament in the past four years with the state’s top player, Tessa Johnson, leading the way.

Still, Madsen’s honesty shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of confidence. The Wildcats have made strides the past two seasons, winning 18 games a season ago and following it up with 19 this year. The Wildcats beat Rosemount in the Class 4 Section 3 championship, avenging two previous losses to the Irish earlier in the year, to earn their maiden voyage to the postseason.

“We feel like we have a chance to win every game we play,” Madsen, the fifth-year head coach, said. “… When we step on the court, we’ve gotten over that hump of hoping that we can win and getting to the point where we feel like we should win this game.”

Postseason pedigree be darned, that was the approach Wednesday. In the opening minutes of the game, that mindset was taking form. Eagan held an early five-point lead as its frenetic pace caused four quick turnovers.

“They woke us up right away,” St. Michael-Albertville coach Kent Hamre said.

But contrasting experience levels would show itself as the game progressed. Eagan’s high tempo approach ultimately faltered with turnovers of its own, 24 total in the game. The lead quickly turned into a 14-point deficit midway through the first half.

Still, it kept them in the game at times, including at the beginning of the second half when the Wildcats cut the deficit to seven — although the Knights answered with a 23-7 run to solidify the result.

Johnson led St. Michael-Albertville with 24 points. Madison McCullum led Eagan with 17 points.

“I don’t think we would’ve won if we would have been careful or laid back,” Eagan junior Drew Buslee said. “We had to attack them because obviously they were going to attack us.”

The tenacious mindset was a feature of Eagan’s standout year.

The Wildcats lost two collegiate-level players from last season’s team yet achieved the program’s best success while playing with a core comprising sophomores and juniors. It was a product of hard work, something Madsen said he has never had to coax out of the group. And the team relished in its lack of a star player, allowing each game to be opened up to whoever was playing well.

That’s a luxury of depth, which is continuing the growth of Eagan’s program all the way down to its youth programs.

“Our program is, top to bottom, in such a better place right now. They want to play for Eagan,” Madsen said.

And it’s left the team knowing it can hold their own at the state tournament. This year and moving forward.

“We know that we should belong, but other people are like, ‘Oh, no, it’s Eagan, first time, they’re just going to get crushed,’ ” senior Belle Iten said. “No. We belong.”

Related Articles