Prep girls basketball: Grand Rapids defends Section 7AAA crown, toppling Cloquet
Junior Jessika Lofstrom led all scorers with 27 points for the Thunderhawks.
DULUTH — Top-seeded Grand Rapids secured its spot in the Class AAA state tournament for the third straight season after overwhelming No. 2 seed Cloquet in a 59-43 victory in the Section 7AAA championship game, Thursday, March 9, at Denfeld High School.
The victory came despite missing leading scorer and North Dakota State University commit, senior Taryn Hamling, who is not currently with the team, and is unlikely to be available for the state tournament, according to head coach Kris Hamling.
In her absence, the Thunderhawks (26-2) received contributions up and down the lineup in what was a well-rounded performance, according to Hamling.
“These girls just worked really hard,” she said. “They’ve been playing really good ball. They had a mission tonight and they came out and they accomplished it … We knew what we had to do defensively and we worked on it all week, and they came out tonight and executed exceptionally well.”
The section-final loss for the Lumberjacks (17-11) marks the second straight year that the club has come up one game short of a state tournament berth, with back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Thunderhawks.
While the outcome was not what they had hoped for, Cloquet head coach Heather Young couldn’t be prouder of her team, especially the team’s two senior leaders, Alexa Snesrud and Macie Majerle.
“I’m just so proud of both of them for their leadership. I can never thank them enough for what they’ve done for Cloquet basketball,” she said.
Majerle saved possibly her best performance of the season for last, with a team-high 18 points for the Lumberjacks.
“For Macie to have the type of game she had tonight my heart is just so happy for her, bursting,” Young said…”And of course Alexa, it’s going to be hard to replace her. She’s just a great leader. She’s a great teammate and she makes everybody better around her.”
With the exception of the opening basket scored by Cloquet’s Ava Carlson, the Thunderhawks never trailed in the contest thanks largely to leading scorer Jessika Lofstrom. The junior imposed her will on both ends of the floor, including a red-hot shooting effort that led her to score 11 of the team’s first 17 points in a 17-7 ballgame.
Lofstrom scored 20 of her game-high 27 points in the opening 18 minutes as the Thunderhawks cruised into halftime with a comfortable 30-19 advantage.
“Jessika was phenomenal tonight. She knew she wanted to get this for the seniors going out and she did it tonight,” Hamling said. “She came prepared to play and put the ball in right when we needed it the most and played good defense.”
Lofstrom said the team’s desire to earn the sweep in their third and final matchup with Cloquet added extra motivation for her and her teammates.
“We all had our hearts in it and we wanted to come out and beat them for the third time so it was just a really intense game. We all wanted it so bad,” Lofstrom said.
Hoping to chip away at the deficit by limiting Grand Rapids’ top available scorer, the Lumberjacks keyed in on Lofstrom, only to have Kate Jamtgaard and Braya LaPlant emerge as the hot hands, both pouring in nine points in the final half.
Even with Majerle’s 12-point outburst fueled by a 12-for-15 night at the charity stripe, Cloquet was unable to gain any ground the rest of the way.
“It was like you put out one fire, but then you’d have to go extinguish the next,” Young said. “And that’s just credit to their team. They just had a lot of irons in the fire and it was just really hard for us to keep everybody contained.”
The Thunderhawks will now await their section seeding with the quarterfinal round of the state tournament set to begin Wednesday, March 15 at Maturi Pavilion.
Grand Rapids 30-29--59
Cloquet -- Kiley Issendorf 3, Quinn Danielson 4, Macie Majerle 18, Paige Goranson 2, Lauren Hughes 2, Alexa Snesrud 6, Ava Carlson 8. Totals 11 19-25 43.
3-point goals -- Issendorf 1, Danielson 1.
Grand Rapids -- Kate Jamtgaard 9, Kyra Giffen 6, Jessika Lofstrom 27, Braya LaPlant 11, Amanda Scherping 6. Totals 23 6-12 59.
3-point goals -- Giffen 2, Lofstrom 3, LaPlant 2.