It was a night of a lot of firsts, and the number 125 took on significance once again for the Elk River Elks. Saturday’s title contest in Class 4A was a night for a championship to remember, and as head coach Jeremy Digiovanni said, it was a night where the Elks were happy to be on top at the end
Led by Gatorad Player of the Year and Star Tribune All Metro MVP Gabi Haack, the road to the championship game wasn’t easy. Elk River trailed, at times, against White Bear Lake in the quarterfinals, yet found a way to win. Haack had a rough start against Lakeville North in the semis, yet her All-Tournament Teammates Sydney Wentland and Keslie Cox found ways to keep the run going, eeking out a 57-57 win to advance to the championship game.
For first-year coach Digiovanni, it was a first-time matchup with the Hopkins Royals, the basketball juggernaut of the Twin Cities. It was Elk River’s first shot at a 4A title. And, ultimately, it was the first time two undefeated teams met in a 4A (big school) championship.
For Haack, it was her first real tournament breakout game. She controlled the play early, scoring inside and outside and leading Elk River to a double-digit lead at points early in the first half. But the “other” Royals made a quick run, and Elk River’s lead was just 35-30 at the half.
In the second half, Wentland took over, with help from Haack, Danielle Lachmiller and Cox, and the Elks held off a late Hopkins run – the Royals even led by two at one point - to earn the 64-60 win and the championship.
“One of the best games I’ve seen,” said Minnesota basketball legend Lindsey Whalen about the title tilt. “Congrats to both teams, and to Elk River for earning the state championship.”
It took a near perfect evening for the Elks, who shot better than 50 percent from the field in the game and 60 percent from the floor in the first half. Though they struggled at the free throw line, ERHS held their ground on defense and only gave up nine free throws total.
“This team loves each other,” Digiovanni said after the celebration, which included a rally at the ERHS gym when the girls came back from Williams Arena. “The chemistry, the hard work, it all paid off.”
On the 125th day of the season – the last day of the season – the girls matched the feat of ERHS football Team 125: An undefeated season, a victory over a top opponent and a state championship.