Big crowd welcomes home Minneota girls
"We're proud to wear Minneota on our jersey," said senior captain McKenna Yost at a Welcome Home celebration for the Vikings' girls basketball team Saturday night following their Class A runner-up finish in the state tournament.
That drew a large cheer from the fan delegation that attended the event in the Minneota gym.
Many people admitted the Vikings exceeded their expectations after entering the state tournament as one of the three unseeded teams and then drawing top-seeded Mt. Iron-Buhl as their opening round opponent.
Minneota rallied from an 11-point deficit to knock off Mt. Iron-Buhl before stunning previously unbeaten Hayfield in the semifinals, again rallying again from an 11-point deficit.
"It was a lot of motivation," Yost said about not being one of the five seeded teams and then having to play the No. 1 team in the state in the first game.
"We knew we had a good team and we had something to prove," senior captain Natalee Rolbiecki said.
Minneota coach Chad Johnston looked up at the banner hanging high on the gymnasium wall as he noted that this year's squad accomplished something that only a few other Minneota teams have.
"If you look up at our 11 state appearances, only five teams have got to play in the game that we played today," he said, referring to the five state championship games that Minneota has advanced to in its history."
"It maybe didn't end the way we hoped it would, but there are a lot of teams out there that would love to change places with these girls right now," he added. "The girls worked hard and I'm really proud of these young ladies. They gave 100 percent and that's all I can ask."
Johnston also made light of his three captains (Yost, Rolbiecki and Jeren Rost) that addressed the fans at the podium, while reading what they had typed on their phones.
"I was going to do that, too, but I can't read it," he joked, while extending his arm out in order to see the print on his phone. "I need a bigger font."
Johnston then turned emotional as he talked about Rolbiecki's grandfather, Jim Rolbiecki, who is battling cancer and was in attendance. The girls wore "JR" on the sleeve of their participation shirts in his honor.
"It's good to see you here and at the state tourney," Johnston said, as the crowd stood and applauded. "Jim was one of the first people I met when I came here. Jim was the athletic director and he took a risk on a young man and hired him as a coach."
The bus carrying the girls was met by fire trucks and a First Responder vehicle, escorting them into town with sirens blaring. Fans stood outside and waved and clapped.
Once inside the gym for the celebration, the managers, players and coaches were introduced one at a time.
"When you think about how many state final trips some of these young ladies have had in volleyball and basketball, and you throw out numbers like eight or nine, it's kind of ridiculous," Johnston said.
Assistant coach Al Panka (assistant Dale Kockelman was unable to attend the celebration) then spoke about what Johnston has meant to the program.
"They talk about the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) and all that. That man is right up there with them," he said, pointing to Johnston as the crowd again applauded.
Minneota had six seniors play their final basketball game for their school; Yost, Rolbiecki, Rost, McKenzie Tolk, Kennedi Jurrens and Morgan Moorse.
At the conclusion of the welcome home celebration, each of the seniors held a plaque or commemorative state tournament basketball and stood together as a throng of family or friends snapped photos.
Photo: The Minneota girls basketball team placed second in the Class A tournament Saturday at Williams Arena. From row, left to right: McKenna Yost, Morgan Moorse, Jeren Rost, McKenzie Tolk, Natalee Rolbiecki, Kennedi Jurrens. Middle row, left to right: Autumn Tooley (stats), Kiersyn Hulzebos, Lyzah Sussner, Dakoda Hennen, Kenadi Arndt, Grace Hennen, Faith Myhre, Emma Bottelberghe, Ireland Stassen, Megan Krog (stats). Back row, left to right: Head coach Chad Johnston, assistant Dale Kockelman, assistant Al Panka. Mascot photo by Meagan Tolk"These seniors meant a lot to our program," Johnston concluded.