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Cardinals want season to end like they've started it


January 10, 2020

Carlton's Elizabeth Hey loses the ball and Andrea Pocernich and Emmalee Hoover pounce as Cromwell-Wright dominated Monday in a 89-24 win. Dan Saletel / Pine Knot Sports

Cromwell-Wright girls' basketball head coach Jeff Gronner said the highlight of the season thus far has been winning for Mountain Iron-Buhl Holiday tournament for the first time since playing in that event the past four seasons.

"We beat Duluth Marshall in the championship game and they were ranked third in the state at the time and it showed we are a solid all-around team," Gronner said. "We also beat a very good Pine River team in what is one of the best holiday tournaments in the state."

With the tournament victory and their most recent win Monday night over Carlton, the Cardinals improved to 11-1 on the season and are currently ranked second in the state in class A. Their lone loss of the year was an opening game loss to Minneota on Nov. 23.

With the Cardinals off to one of their best starts in school history, the team will be preparing for what they hope is another state tournament appearance come March.

The Cromwell-Wright girls team made two straight trips to the state tournament in 2016 and 2017 while playing in Section 5A. Last season the Cardinals were moved back to Section 7A where they had played primarily the past 20 years. While seeded No. 1 in the section tournament a year ago, the Cards lost to MIB - which won its ninth consecutive Section 7A title.

The road back to the state tournament will be a difficult one with MIB still looking to defend its section title for the 10th time, but the Cardinals have been able to compete at a high level in one of the toughest schedules they have ever played. Besides Minneota and the MIB holiday tournament - and after three more contests against Polar League teams Barnum, Two Harbors and McGregor - Cromwell-Wright will face Hermantown, Esko, Mesabi East, Floodwood, Proctor, MIB, and Duluth Marshall - each for the second time this year.

"We start a very tough stretch Jan. 21 through Feb. 10," Gronner said. "To make things even harder, six of those seven games are on the road, with only Proctor playing in Cromwell."

He said those seven teams have a combined record of 63-7.

"Six have been ranked in the Top 10 at one point of the year in the state basketball polls, and currently five of the seven are," he said.

The Cardinals will play another ranked team, Cherry, on Feb. 18 in Cromwell.

Dan Saletel / Pine Knot Sports

"We will need to take care of business and play with the energy we have thus far this season in that tough stretch," Gronner said. "Those games will get us battle- tested for a long run in March hopefully."

With a very talented team this season, the Cardinals features standout cousins Taya and Shaily Hakamaki leading a prolific offensive attack in which Taya averages 24 points per game while her cousin is averaging almost 19 points.

As a team, the Cards average almost 69 points per game, which is third best in Class A, behind only MIB (74 points) and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (69).

Cromwell-Wright is sometimes overlooked, despite a stellar offense and a defense that allows only 30 points per game, possibly a state best in any class of girls basketball.

All eyes are focused on the Cardinals over the coming weeks and a possible extended playoff run in March.


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