Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.
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ST. PAUL – The foundation to a championship started two years ago. Zumbrota-Mazeppa surprised even itself in 2015 by reaching the Class 1A state wrestling finals before falling 31-30 to Minneota in the finals. It took two years to return to the state championship. And this time, the Cougars weren't just happy to be there. They were fully prepared to leave the Xcel Energy Center as the 1A's best.
ST. PAUL – Adversity was staring Spencer DeFrang in the face. Down 7-0 to Kenyon-Wanamingo's Jaeden Sokoloski after two periods, it looked like Zumbrota-Mazeppa would lose its third straight match in the Class 1A state quarterfinals. That didn't matter too much. The 138-pounder has faced adversity all season. And instead of backing up, DeFrang fired up. “He always wants to win. Whatever he does, he wants to win at it and that showed up today on the mat,” said Z-M head coach Link Steffen.
ROCHESTER – Red Wing never said die. Through the Section 1A playoffs, the Wingers managed to survive double overtime against Albert Lea and another overtime versus Rochester Lourdes. Looking to end a 15-year state drought against top-seeded Northfield, Red Wing's season extended even further with another double overtime game to decide the section champion. “Everyone knew it was coming. I told the guys this game was going to overtime,” said Wingers goaltender Zach Harding. “We knew it was coming. We knew we'd have to beat them in overtime to get to state.”
ROCHESTER – Eventually, pressure will get the best of anyone. After Kenyon-Wanamingo's offense struggled in the first half, trailing Pine Island 24-18 in Tuesday's Section 1AA quarterfinals, the fourth-seeded Knights wanted a spark. So, they amped up the pressure on defense. “The first half, we didn't play all that well,” said K-W head coach Brent Lurken “We couldn't score, so we figured we would have to start playing great defense in the second half if we don't start shooting the ball better.”
Life on the court has been swell for a guard called Bubba. McKayla Muelken, Red Wing’s senior point guard, has been a driving force for a Wingers team that has added nine wins from a season ago and sits as the No. 4 seed in the Section 1AAA tournament beginning Wednesday. But for as long as she can remember, McKayla hasn’t really gone by her legal name. McKayla has always been called Bubba.
ROCHESTER – With losses of 30 and 43 points during the regular season against Hayfield, Zumbrota-Mazeppa knew it would be an uphill battle to knock off the second-seeded Vikings in the Section 1AA tournament. But over the first eight minutes of Monday's section quarterfinal game, the 10th-seeded Cougars gave Hayfield some pause, forcing the Vikings to take a timeout with 7 minutes, 23 seconds to go before halftime. “That's something they haven't had to do before,” said Z-M head coach Scott Paukert.
ROCHESTER – Four Red Wing swimmers – Ian Johnson, Ben Schaffer, William Meacham and Jayden Jech – punched their ticket to state right away in the Section 1A championship Saturday as a part of the 200-yard medley relay. And for Meacham and Schaffer, state will be another chance to add another medal to their collections. In the section championship at the Rochester Rec Center, the Wingers placed seventh out of 10 teams with a score of 180. Northfield was the section champion with a score of 358.
ROCHESTER — If nothing else, Tyler DeFore is persistent. During Saturday’s Section 1A semifinal against second-seeded Rochester Lourdes, DeFore’s attempts to score through the five-hole on Eagles’ goaltender Adam Renn came up unsuccessful. In overtime, tied 3-3, DeFore tried to give it the ol’ college try one more time.
Red Wing's season was over. The Wingers trailed Albert Lea 5-2 in the Section 1A quarterfinals with four minutes to play. All game, the sixth-seeded Tigers just seemed to be one or two strides faster than third-seeded Red Wing. And the Wingers' vaunted offense was unable to break through the defense and a stellar performance from Albert Lea goaltender Benjamin Witham. Forty-seven minutes of game clock seemed to seal the Wingers' season. But in a four-minute span, the Wingers played their most inspired hockey of the season for an improbable comeback.
Up by just two at halftime against Big Nine Conference foe Mankato West, Red Wing girls' basketball coach Jesse Nelson wanted to try to work the ball inside for more high-percentage shots. Then the Wingers hit 15 3-pointers in the game, and senior Morgan Zebro turned in a 23-point effort to become the latest member of the school's 1,000-point club. After Tuesday's 73-56 win over the visiting Scarlets, coach Nelson could only shrug his shoulders about the proposed inside attack not going exactly to plan.