Blake's Sara McClanahan, shown in practice in late October, will help lead their Bears during their first season competing in Class 2A. Photo: RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER ¥ email@example.com
Blake’s long-awaited move up to Class 2A means a tougher state tournament field — if the Bears make it at all.
Blake, a private school that drew scrutiny while winning seven Class 1A titles, got assigned to Section 6 with defending big-school state champion Edina. That means at least one of the state’s elite teams won’t advance.
The good news for Blake? Playing a tough, Class 2A-heavy regular-season schedule in recent years should have the Bears prepared for the postseason grind. In addition, players such as forwards Izzy Daniel and Sara McClanahan, defenseman Madeline Wethington and goaltending tandem Olivia Bizal and Anna Kruesel give them talent in numbers that few teams can match.
Edina lost a few important seniors but still returns Division I college-committed forwards CC Bowlby, Lolita Fidler and Emily Oden plus defenseman Mallory Uihlein.
The Hornets play Jan. 20 at the refurbished Blake School Arena in what figures to be a section final preview.
In Section 2, Eden Prairie outlasted Minnetonka for a double-overtime victory in the section finals last season. Graduation hit the Eagles harder, making Minnetonka the favorite to reach the state tournament.
Blaine took second at the state tournament last season, but the presence of Centennial in Section 5 means a tough road back.
Back in their skates for the Bengals are forwards Ramsey Parent and Gabby Rosenthal. Both are committed to Ohio State, and both are coming off great seasons. Parent notched 25 goals and 30 assists and Rosenthal 29 goals and 32 assists.
When it comes to a 1-2 punch, however, no one does it like Centennial’s Gabbie Hughes and Anneke Linser, regarded as the state’s most potent scoring duo.
A natural scorer and stone-cold finisher, Hughes pumped 32 goals and 40 assists into the Cougars’ attack. Linser, her linemate, added 23 goals and 41 assists and drew raves for great vision and playmaking. Both are seniors committed to Minnesota Duluth.
Centennial fell to Northwest Suburban Conference rival Blaine twice down the stretch last season and bowed out in the section semifinals to Maple Grove. Tack on two previous section final appearances that ended with losses and you get a team hungry to break through this season.
Graduation decimated Maple Grove, and the Crimson must rebuild around junior forward Mannon McMahon.
Hill-Murray won Class 2A state championships in 2014 and 2015 and saw its bid to go undefeated in 2016 fall short in the semifinals. The Pioneers also dropped their semifinal game last season but return 16 players on the roster that night.
More than quantity, that corps includes some of the state’s top players: forward Abigail Boreen, who led the Pioneers with 31 goals and is committed to Minnesota, defenseman Mariah Keopple and goaltender Ava Bailey.
An experienced, talented Pioneers squad will be a tough out in the playoffs. Especially considering the different challenges facing other Section 4 teams heading into this season.
Mounds View coach Aaron Moberg left to take the school’s football job. Stillwater’s season ended with a playoff loss to Roseville that 13 Ponies players missed because of suspension.
Perhaps the team best suited to challenge Hill-Murray is old nemesis White Bear Lake. The Bears return Sydney Shearen, who ranked first with 25 goals and committed to Minnesota, and goaltender Calla Frank, who is committed to Minnesota State Mankato and is capable of stealing games.
Farmington ended the stranglehold on Class 2A, Section 1 held for eight consecutive years by Lake-ville North and South. And with just two seniors on last season’s roster, the Tigers could begin a run of their own.
Farmington did much of its good work by committee last season. Only Ellie Moser, a senior forward committed to Bemidji State, scored 20 goals. It returns both goaltenders — Abby Bollig, who defeated Lakeville South in the section final, and Emily Auge. The Tigers held 19 opponents to two or fewer goals. They went 1-3 against the Lakeville schools in South Suburban Conference play but defeated both in the playoffs.
Lakeville South, the top seed in Section 1 last season, returns a proven scorer in Emily Fischler (17 goals) and the team’s backbone, goaltender Lexi Baker. She won 17 games — four by shutout — and stopped 91.2 percent of shots faced.
For Lakeville North, defenseman Maggie Flaherty (17 goals), who is committed to Minnesota Duluth, forward Erin Olson (18 goals) and goaltender Kallie Schneider (seven shutouts) provide veterans at all three levels.