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Heart sidelines Griffiths

As she had several times the past few years, Laura Griffiths felt her heart speed up after she scored 14 points in her final home game for the Cherry High School girls basketball team.

As she had several times the past few years, Laura Griffiths felt her heart speed up after she scored 14 points in her final home game for the Cherry High School girls basketball team.

The next morning, Feb. 15, Griffiths' heart raced so fast that her parents rushed her to the emergency room at Fairview University Medical Center in Hibbing. Griffiths' heartbeat reached nearly 200 beats per minute.

Doctors there diagnosed the senior point guard with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, an abnormality of the heart's electrical system pathways. She went down to the University of Minnesota Hospital on Monday, where doctors gave her an electrocardiogram and put her on medication until they can perform a procedure to correct the abnormality.

But that won't be until about a month from now, long after Cherry's season is over. The Tigers open the Section 7A playoffs against Carlton at 6 p.m. today at Lincoln High School in Esko. Griffiths will be on the bench cheering her teammates.

Though she's sad that her season is done, Griffiths and her family are glad to know the end result. Doctors told her that the procedure, which will use either a freezing or burning technique to fix what is akin to a short-circuit in the electrical pathways, should cure her completely. She even might be able to join the track team in the spring.

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"They were very reassuring down there," said Laura's father, Ben. "They are 99 percent sure they can have this thing fixed."

Laura acknowledged having several prior episodes, including one about two months earlier when she blacked out in her family's kitchen and felt her legs go numb.

"I have had fast heartbeats and had a hard time breathing, but I didn't think anything of it," she said Wednesday. "I never told anyone, which was really stupid."

Not until that morning two weeks ago when she couldn't start her car before school and her father questioned her.

"She said, 'My heart is racing pretty good so I'm going to rest,' " Ben Griffiths said. "Then her mother [Sherie] said, 'This is our time to get her in and find out what's going on.' "

Cherry coach Lee Bloomquist said his players were stunned to hear the 17-year-old was ill.

"It hit our team pretty hard. Our girls are pretty shook up," said Bloomquist, who added that teammates have paid tribute to Griffiths by putting her name and jersey number 5 on their shoes in permanent marker. "We're going to miss her tremendously on the court, but our concern is for her long-term health."

Griffiths led the Northland during the regular season by averaging 6.4 assists per game and added 2.5 steals a game. But it's not just her on-court talent that will be missed, Bloomquist said.

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"Laura is our team clown," Bloomquist said. "She's a real fun-loving kid who keeps everyone on the team loose. She's the life of the team personality-wise."

And that's something Griffiths doesn't want to lose, even if it meant giving up basketball.

"I'd rather be living today [and not playing] than play and not be here," she said.

* A Laura Griffiths heart fund has been set up at various US Bank branches in Northeastern Minnesota to help defray her medical expenses. Checks should be made out to Laura Griffiths Heart Fund and sent to US Bank, 230 W. First St. S., Virginia, MN 55792. Donations also can be made at US Bank branches in Duluth, Hibbing, Grand Rapids, Babbitt and Cloquet.

BARNUM, WRENSHALL ready for playoffs

Barnum and Wrenshall have engaged in a bit of one-upmanship this season. "Whatever you can do, I can do better" seems to be the mantra of both schools.

It's a pattern that may continue until the state tournament now that the teams are in separate sections.

Fourth-ranked Barnum (24-2) moved to Section 5A during Minnesota State High School League reclassification, while fifth-ranked Wrenshall (24-2) remained in 7A. The teams split two meetings this season and shared the Polar League title. Barnum has one 1,000-point career scorer in Megan Myhre, while Wrenshall has three in Danielle and Samantha Anderson and Andrea Gould.

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Both teams begin their quest tonight. Barnum hosts Cromwell, and Wrenshall welcomes Silver Bay in second-round games.

Both teams are favored to advance to state, but players from each team don't need a long memory to recall playoff upsets. Barnum lost to Bigfork, while Wrenshall fell to Chisholm in the 7A semifinals last season. Bigfork (23-2) is again a contender, sharing No. 1 subsection seeds with Wrenshall.

* It may be difficult for a Northland team to advance out of 7AA. Restructuring altered the section, bringing in teams like seventh-ranked Braham (25-1) and Hinckley-Finlayson (19-5) in the southern subsection.

Virginia (23-3) and Eveleth-Gilbert (17-7), the 1-2 seeds in the other half of the section, might have the best chance. The Blue Devils have used balanced scoring to improve by 16 wins from last season, while the Golden Bears are led by 18-point scorer Carla Anderson.

RICK WEEGMAN covers prep girls basketball for the News Tribune. He can be reached at (218) 723-5302, (800) 456-8181 or by e-mail at rweegman@duluthnews.com .

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