Athletics: State tournament dates and changes announced

The Minnesota State High School League approved a schedule to host winter state tournaments.

Ethan Yorek (left) of Little Falls and Elias Knapp of Brainerd take off from the starting line Saturday, Jan. 30, during the Little Falls Flyers Nordic Ski Invitational at the Northland Arboretum. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

There will be something to play for.

At least that is the plan as it was laid out Thursday, Feb. 4, by the Minnesota State High School League’s Board of Directors meeting.

Every winter sport except for the adapted sports was given a date for its state tournament.


The first date approved at the meeting was the state Nordic ski meet, which will be March 12 at its familiar site, Giants Ridge Resort in Biwabik.

A big change for this season is only one team will qualify per section.


“The ramifications of the changes are going to take us a little time to digest,” Warrior co-head Nordic ski coach Chris Hanson said. “We’re still waiting for some more direction on exactly what the qualifying formula is going to be. We do know if it’s only one team, that’s just more motivation to not be content as a team. We have to be the top team and that puts a little bit more pressure, but it’s also a little more exciting.

“We’re just happy that the announcement came that this is in the works to have a state meet and a chance for a top-level competition.”

Two days later will be the state Alpine ski meet March 12, also at Giants Ridge. There will be four pods of 22 skiers and each skier will compete in two races.

“If this was a normal year we would have had our section meet yesterday (Wednesday, Feb. 3),” Warriors head coach Jim Ruttger said. “It’s pretty strange. We’re hoping the snow sticks around long enough. It’s probably pretty ideal conditions at that time. We’ve had meets in February where it’s been warm and the course disintegrates.”

Section 5, which Brainerd competes in, has 23 teams so this year there will be two subsection events. The winner of each subsection event and the top five individuals not on the winning team will advance to a section final.

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Brainerd Warrior Erin Hoelzel skies Tuesday, Jan. 26, at Mount Ski Gull during an alpine ski meet. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch


The state dance tournament will cover two days and will be at Edina High School. The jazz finals will be March 12 and the kick tournament will be March 13. The event will be finals only, meaning each team will dance just once. Both days will start with Class 3A.


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Swimming and diving

There will be no fans allowed for the state swimming and diving tournament, which will be March 18-20 at the usual University of Minnesota Aquatic Center in Minneapolis.

Diving will be March 18 and will be concluded that day. Friday, March 19, will be either Class 1A or Class 2A and likely will be split into two sessions of four sections each. There would not be prelims, only finals. Saturday, March 20, would be the other class.

“We expected this announcement to come out a few weeks ago,” Warrior head swim/dive coach John Zemke said. “We had an advisory council and we met as coaches and threw out some suggestions to the league hoping they would say they can hold this safely and it looks like they agreed. We’re really excited about this and for the kids and coaches, it’s something to look forward to for the remainder of the season.”

Zemke said the Aquatic Center at the university could only hold 250 people with social distancing in mind. Once the athletes were counted and two coaches per team, the number of fans allowed would be minimal.

“You look at the girls’ season and not having that state meet like it has been every year since the beginning of the state tournament would be a bummer,” Zemke said. “Any team that has seniors or who has a guy qualify for a state tournament and doesn’t get to compete would really be a tragic thing. This is a great thing and we’re very excited about it.”

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State wrestling will not be at the Xcel Energy Center like it normally is and appears to be the most changed of the state tournaments.


Following the section tournaments there will be a “Super Section” or “State Prelim.” Individuals will be cut from the normal 16 that advance to the top eight individuals and teams will drop from eight to four following this event.

The state tournament will run March 25-27, with one class going the entire day. For instance, Class 1A will be March 25 with the team tournament in the morning and individuals at night, or vice versa. Class 2A will be on March 26 and Class 3A will be March 27.

“What we had heard is basically they’ll do sections and super sections and then get down to four teams and eight individuals per weight class,” Warriors head wrestling coach Mikkey White said. “It gives guys a chance if you have two good kids in the same section.”

The state tournament location has not been determined yet.

“I think this is huge to give these guys some kind of an end goal,” White said. “We’ve kind of been dangling that carrot along assuming and hoping that was going to be the case. We never were for sure so this helps.”

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State gymnastics will be March 26 for Class 1A and March 27 for Class 2A at Champlin Park High School. It will remain the top team from each section along with the top three all-arounders and the top three finishers of each discipline from each section.

Each day will feature two sessions of four sections. For athletes who qualified as both a team member and an individual, their one routine will count for both the team and individual competition.


SEASON PREVIEW: Gymnastics: Warriors poised to tumble to success


The state hockey tournaments will have a unique look this year. Instead of a three-day weekend, hockey fans will have to take a week off.

The state girls’ quarterfinals will be March 26-27 followed by the state boys’ quarterfinals March 30-31. The state girls’ semifinals will be April 1 followed by the state boys’ semifinals April 2. All four finals games — boys and girls Class 1A and Class 2A championships — will be April 3. All games will be played at Xcel Energy Center.

“Any time you get there it’s fun, I can tell you that,” Warrior head boys hockey coach Dave Aus said. “It would be a little bit disappointing for this year to be the first year Brainerd makes it because there are no fans. Part of what makes it what it is is having 100,000 people there through the weekend. But to get there certainly would be cool and it’s still televised. And maybe it’s more of a celebration week of hockey with both the boys and girls there at the same time.”

Aus likes the fact there is something to play for. Now he would love to see more competitions added and the mask mandate lifted.

“I think this is good,” Aus said. “I think it’s good we have a plan and it’s good we’re moving forward with it.”


The state basketball tournaments for boys and girls will run simultaneously. The state quarterfinals will be March 30-31 at regional sites, most likely larger high schools.

The state semifinals for all four classes in both boys and girls will be April 6-8 at Target Center and the eight total finals will be April 9-10 at Target Center.


Section 7-2A announced its section brackets, which will start Wednesday, March 17, for boys and Thursday, March 28, for girls. New this year, high seeds will host all the way through the tournament.

The Pequot Lakes boys and Crosby-Ironton girls teams are currently sitting atop the section standings.

The Patriots are 6-0 overall and 3-0 against section opponents. They own the top Quality Results Formula rating of 15 for the 15-team bracket.

“The regular season is super important,” Pequot head coach Rich Spiczka said. “I like a little bit of the shift. I think it might be extreme, but obviously, it’s COVID-19 driven. The fact that we get to play, I could really care less at this point where we have to play. One game during the regular season means a lot. Look at our game Tuesday against Esko. That game means we could play Esko again in the section tournament at our place.”

There are 14 girls teams in Section 7-2A. C-I owns a 5-0 overall record and a 3-0 section record. They are No. 4 in the QRF followed closely by Duluth Marshall, which is No. 5 in the standings.

“Every game is important now,” C-I head coach Pete Vukelich said. “That’s how they decide the section seedings. If we could have the section title run through Crosby, that would be crazy important. I feel like it’s almost a college football season where if you lose, you really lose out on something big. Every game is very important, especially that stretch to start March for us is crucial.”

Vukelich admitted with the limited number of fans being allowed in games, the home-court advantage might not be as big as in the past, but he’ll take any advantage he can get.

Both basketball coaches are just happy there will be something to play for.


“I think it’s exciting,” Spiczka said. “It’s one of those things that kids dream about. Heck, coaches dream about it. Everybody wants to go there and the fact that the kids will have some kind of normalcy is good. Anything in any walk of life toward normal is good in my opinion. We’re excited for all the athletes who have a chance to do this. Their high school careers are already short and to lose that as some teams and seasons have is unfortunate. We’re excited to see this back.”

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or Follow on Twitter at

020521.S.BD.Erin Hoelzel1.jpg
Brainerd Warrior Erin Hoelzel skies Tuesday, Jan. 26, at Mount Ski Gull during an alpine ski meet. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

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Brainerd Warrior Erin Hoelzel skies Tuesday, Jan. 26, at Mount Ski Gull during an alpine ski meet. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

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