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by Jim Skelly
A National Signing Day event held in November at Lakeville North High School filled the room with a school-record 18 student athletes declaring their intent to participate in NCAA athletics. It also foreshadowed what was to become a winter season that athletes, students and supporters, and prep sports followers from throughout Minnesota will be discussing for years to come.
Panther teams filled the trophy cases with state tournament hardware including a first-ever Boys Basketball title. Boys Hockeyadvanced to their first-ever title game and Girls Hockey took home the third place honors. Girls Basketball gained a fourth-place finish at state while the Gymnastics and Girls Alpine Ski teams also advanced to state. That’s an amazing record of success for any school, and a particularly impressive showing for a school with an enrollment of just over 1,700 students. Here’s a recap of a winter season to remember at Lakeville North.
J.P. Macura made it clear throughout the season that he was more interested in his team winning the state championship than any personal accolades. After tallying 43 points in the 4A State Championship Game facing perennial power Hopkins and leading the Panthers to its first ever crown you could say he got both.
Macura, who signed to play his college basketball at Xavier University, hit on long-range three pointers and slashing drives to
the hoop putting on a legendary scoring display. But he wasn’t the entire story. Sophomore guard Drew Stewart was fouled after draining a three pointer in the game’s final 30 seconds and junior forward Connor Flack rebounded the missed free throw to give the Panthers the lead, completing a five-point swing. The Panther’s “big man” Bronson Bruneau also saved his best game for last, scoring 16 points and gaining All-Tournament team honors along with Macura and Flack. The Panthers,
coached by John Oxton, finished with a 27-5 overall record.
When freshman forward Henry Enebak scored in overtime in the state quarterfinals to give Lakeville North a 2-1 victory over Roseau, it made program history. For the first time ever a Panthers team advanced beyond the opening round at the Xcel Energy Center. One night later, junior Nick Poehling made history again, scoring a double-OT goal in a 5-4 defeat of Eden Prairie, a shot that propelled Lakeville North into their first-ever attempt at a state title. While that opportunity was missed in an 8-2 loss to Edina, the Panthers did collect a second-place trophy along with some well-earned respect.
The record-setting finish for the Panthers was right in line with the type of hockey they played all season long and a testament to their depth on the ice. Junior forwards Ryan and Nick Poehling welcomed freshman brother Jack Poehling to complete a high-scoring first line attack. Solid defense led by juniors Matt McNeeley, Angelo Altavilla and Jack Sadek, and strong goaltending from Sr. Captain Will Dupont and freshman Jake Ottinger added to the Panthers’ effectiveness. Resulting in a 25-5 record–a season that included an inaugural South Suburban Conference Championship to accompany a second consecutive
Section 1AA title for third year coach Trent Eigner.
Panther Girls Hockey had finished in fourth-place and third-place in consecutive previous trips to the Xcel Energy Center with sights set on advancing for a chance to play for a title. With a strong defensive effort led by D1 college recruits Dani Sadek (Ohio State) and Taylor Flaherty (North Dakota), and state goals against leader junior Abby Cooper between the pipes, the Panthers were positioned to make another run. Lakeville North avenged a 2-1 semifinal loss to Benilde St. Margaret’s to defeat Eden Prairie 5-1 for a second consecutive third place finish at state.
Along with producing a state banner for Ames Arena, the Panthers collected their third consecutive South Suburban Conference title to go with their three-peat of Section 1AA crowns finishing with a 24-5-2 record for coach Buck Kochevar. Five-year standout Alexis Joyce (Bemidji State) is one of five Panthers committed to college hockey programs including Sadek, Flaherty, and St. Thomas recruits Heidi Winiecki and Maddie McGlade.
Having witnessed state trips for both hockey programs and boys basketball, the Panther Girls Basketball Team was primed to make a run of their own. At the season’s onset, legendary coach Andy Berkvam turned over the coaching duties to Panther alum Shelly Soule. The new coach and the 2014 team carried on the tradition of excellence by overcoming the odds and returning from state with a fourth place trophy.
The unranked and upset-minded Panthers eliminated the No. 2 seed Centennial in the opening round before dropping a semi-final match-up with conference foe Bloomington Kennedy, and the third place game to Eden Prairie 48-44. Seniors Kendall Naatjes, Erika Rozell and Jess Meidl will graduate, but the shelves are well-stocked with young talent. Leading scorer Junior MacKenzie Denk and freshman Temi Carda were named to the state all-tournament team. They are joined by a fleet of talented, hard-working underclassman and a coach with state tournament experience. Lakeville North finished with a 21-11 overall record.
While the success experienced during the winter season is considered a relatively rare feat for one high school, it is consistent with the overall athletic success enjoyed by Lakeville North over the course of this school year. Football, Girls Soccer and both Boys and Girls Cross Country advanced to state during the fall season. With many teams comprised of underclassman, coupled with strong coaching staffs and a supportive community, a repeat showing of a Panther Pride state “four-peat” may be in the future.
photo by Jim Lindquist