St. Michael-Albertville senior Jackson Greenwaldt looked around the court at the mob of parents, friends, family and players sharing congratulations on the court at Monticello High School shortly after his team’s 66-49 victory in the Section 8 championship game over Rogers in Class 4A.
“I’m speechless,” he said. “It’s pretty unbelievable. State is something we’ve dreamed about since we started playing travel ball together in third grade. So to be here is such good feeling.”
Greewaldt poured in 19 points and the Knights used suffocating defense to create its offense in transition to top the Royals for its first-ever trip to the Class 4A tournament. Trevor Rothstein added 16 and the highlight of the night – a dunk that sent the Knights’ faithful into a frenzy nearing the closing stages of the victory.
“I think we knew this summer that last season was pretty underwhelming, pretty disappointing for us,” Rothstein said. “So we put in the work, and we knew that if we put it together we could be a state tournament team. We just sort of gelled and it came together. We wanted it so bad.”
The Knights never really trailed in the contest, taking a 16-8 lead midway through the first half and rallying with a 14-6 run over the final seven minutes of the half to go into the locker with a 32-19 lead. Josh Tracy hit a lay-in at the buzzer that sent STMA into the locker rooms flying pretty high.
“That’s a real lift,” said head coach Tim Anfenson. “He hustled on that play and made something happen, and that’s really been the story of our team this season. Work hard and good things can happen for you.”
The Knights suffered a loss to Rogers in the final week of the regular season, a game where they scored under 50 points. Rothstein said two things – an improved game plan and a stronger effort on both ends of the floor – led to the big win Thursday.
“Our coaches really did an excellent job planning for what they do. We attacked their baseline and were ready to reverse the ball when we had to. I thought we were really patient and got to the rim,” Rothstein said. “And on defense we just worked harder.”
“Our shot selection was fantastic,” Anfenson added. “That’s a big thing in a game like this. If you take good shots, you’re using each possession. That was huge.”
In the second half, STMA used its guard play to keep the Royals moving. Rogers committed several fouls out on top of the defense, and the Knights were shooting bonus free-throws before there was 12 minutes left in the game. To their credit, STMA rarely missed, with Rothstein, Jaylen Hakes and Greewaldt all perfect from the line.
A 5-0 run, with all five points by Greenwaldt, stretched the lead to 16. After Rothstein hit another key three when the Royals cut the lead down to nine at one point, Rogers never threatened again.
“We’ve had some really great teams in the past – one a couple years ago I can think of that got upset in the first round and some in the semifinals, that just never made it over the hump like this. We’re going to see some really good teams down in Minneapolis, but we’re going to enjoy this for a while. It’s a great memory for all of us,” Anfenson said.
The team, of course, wouldn’t have advanced without a bit of magi in the semifinal last weekend. Caleb Holt hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to push the team into overtime against Elk River, where the Knights gutted out a 56-52 win.
“I think we all felt a taste of what losing our season was like, and we came out with that in mind tonight,” Holt said. “It’s a dream come true. Hitting that shot, and now making it to state. I wouldn’t trade my team for anything. These guys can play with anybody. So we’re excited to see what’s next,” Holt said.
STMA will find out early next week what seed it will hold going into the State 4A Tournament, which is set for Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Opening round games are 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. at Target Center on Wednesday afternoon.