Unbeaten Braham denies Esko state berth in girls basketball

Braham senior Rebekah Dahlman gave a young fan a big hug after the girls basketball Section 7AA final, and then gave her brother, Jonah, an even bigger hug before cutting the nets at Romano Gym.

Braham senior Rebekah Dahlman gave a young fan a big hug after the girls basketball Section 7AA final, and then gave her brother, Jonah, an even bigger hug before cutting the nets at Romano Gym.

It is a scene that had been repeated the previous four years at Minnesota Duluth, and it was repeated a fifth time on Thursday as Dahlman scored 31 points to lead the Bombers to a 58-53 victory over Esko before more than 2,000 spectators.

Braham is now 15-0 in section playoff games at UMD.

"Duluth has been great," said Dahlman, who scored 22 of her points in the second half. "We're perfect. We don't lose here."

Most of the crowd was there to cheer for their respective teams, but some were there to see the final matchup between the state's all-time leading scorer in Dahlman and the state's all-time leading shot blocker in Esko's Savanna Trapp, who at 6-foot-9 is the tallest girls player in state annals.


It was a unique small-town matchup, with two NCAA Division I basketball talents taking the floor, not to mention a DI running talent in Esko senior Marisa Shady.

And for the fourth straight year, Dahlman and Co. had the upper hand on the Eskomos in a hotly contested 7AA final.

The difference in this contest? Trapp initially said she didn't know, but then after thinking about it for a few seconds, she replied, "fate."

Third-ranked Braham (30-0) came in averaging more than 80 points per game and had demolished its previous two opponents by a combined 200-58, with most of the 200 points coming in the first half, but Esko (26-4) had other ideas.

The Eskomos came out with patience in working the ball through Trapp, who had missed the previous four games after fracturing three bones in her right big toe. She appeared a bit hobbled from the injury, but she was still a disruptive force, blocking shots, grabbing rebounds and altering shots. She finished with 11 points.

"I had the time of my life playing basketball with these girls," Trapp said. "I wasn't going to miss this game. No way. Never."

Braham led 26-21 at the break before Claudia Turner scored 12 of her 18 points in the second half to lead Esko's comeback. The Eskomos took their first lead of the game at 33-32 with 13 minutes to play and led 43-39 before Braham called a timeout with 6:31 left. After the timeout, Braham junior Jenna Winter hit a 3-pointer from the corner as the Bombers regained control as Esko missed layups and 3-pointers down the stretch.

Shady added 13 points as the Eskomos' five seniors accounted for 50 of the team's 53 points.


"They've been a dream group to have," Esko coach Scott Antonutti said. "All of them have been great leaders. All of them have been hard workers. I think 'gutsy' is a great adjective to describe those five. They're going to be sorely missed, not just on the basketball court but in school. They've set a great example for the rest of our girls to follow.

"It's just unfortunate we've been stuck the last four years in the same section as Braham. We've had state-caliber teams, but we can't do anything about geography."

But Esko has put up a fight. Of the four section losses, two have been decided by five points or less and a third, last year's 68-58 setback, went to two overtimes.

The difference each time has been Dahlman, part of a famed Minnesota basketball family that includes her grandfather, former Minneapolis Lakers coach John Kundla.

Now Dahlman hopes to add a second state title to her resume before heading off to Vanderbilt on a basketball scholarship.

"You've just got to refuse to lose," Dahlman said.

Her brother Jonah, who just finished his college basketball career at St. Scholastica, agreed.

"None of what she does surprises me," Jonah Dahlman said. "She's a winner. She's got winning in her veins."


Esko 21-32--53

Braham 26-32--58

Esko -- Kallyn Knutson 1, Marisa Shady 13, Bailey Mudek 1, Claudia Turner 18, Brooke Schramm 7, Molly Trapp 2, Savanna Trapp 11. Totals 18 15-20 53.

3-point goals -- Turner, Schramm.

Braham -- Kayla Nickles 8, Jenna Winter 9, Rebekah Dahlman 31, Dana Braund 10. Totals 23 6-10 58.

3-point goals -- Nickles 2, Winter 3, Dahlman.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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