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Barnum can't get past BBE in Section 5A final

Rayna Klejeski knew she and her Barnum girls basketball teammates had the potential to be successful this winter. But even the Bombers senior superstar was a bit wide-eyed with their results.

A 25-win season for the first time in recent memory and a resurgence of the tiny town's rich basketball tradition resulted in bittersweet hardware last Friday when Barnum fell to Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 76-50 in the Section 5A championship at St. John's University in Collegeville.

Although there was a sting from the season-ending loss - their fifth in 30 games - Barnum (25-5) brought home another plaque to add to an already-decorated trophy case and received red runner-up medals after playing in their first section title game since 2011.

"We surprised ourselves, Rayna Klejeski said. "And, as the season went on, it got less and less surprising. We just went on a roll. It was so fulfilling."

Yet, not even Klejeski - who finished with a team-high 18 to give her 1,641 for her prep career before heading to Division II Minnesota-Crookston next year - was enough to contain BBE.

The Jaguars, winners of three of the last four 5A crowns, displayed their skill late in the first half when a nine-point lead, at 32-23, ballooned to 19 in a blink of an eye. BBE finished the frame on a 10-0 run to take a 42-23 advantage into halftime.

"Nine points compared to 19 points is a big difference," said Jaguars coach Kristina Anderson. "There was a huge momentum shift there."

Following the break, BBE (25-4) continued to use its depth to widen their lead. Despite the 6-foot Klejeski and fellow senior Allison Marine, standing 6-3, the Jaguars had a distinct advantage on the glass, ripping down 43 total rebounds and quickly dictating the game's tempo.

"One of the things we preach is to stay the course - we keep pushing," continued Anderson, who owns over 200 career wins. "If we can continue to control the boards and push the pace, it'll wear on teams."

BBE's Brooklyn Fischer led the charge, counting 22 points, followed by Tiyana Schwinghammer's 18 and 17 more from do-it-all Abby Berge, a Class A All-State senior and DII commit to Minnesota State-Moorhead next year. Fellow Jaguars Bree Thieschafer and Adley Hagen had eight points each to aid a seemingly endless array of scorers.

"They're like a well-oiled machine," Klejeski said.

"They get up and down the court," added Barnum coach Mariah Minkkinen of BBE. "I was really proud of my girls' efforts. Some girls played some more minutes than usual, and we battled - they did their best."

Along with Klejeski's team-high in the scorebook, Marine scored 12 points, while Janaya Jurek and Jacinda Wright each counted six. Fellow Bombers Cora Berger, Ali Collelo, Lucy Franek and Ella Heaton all had a basket each.

A lengthy list of contributors was Exhibit A of the time, effort and commitment the Bombers put in their gym over the summer. Valuing their possessions, ball movement and enjoying their time together was the forefront of coaching goals last June and July. Minkkinen said her squad was in the gym four days a week all summer long. "Five if you count open gyms," Minkkinen said with a laugh.

A former Division I college ballplayer at Wisconsin-Green Bay, Minkkinen is assisted by fellow collegiate and former Bombers star Justine Miller, who played at DII Minnesota Duluth, as well as Dustin Collelo, also softball head coach at Barnum.

Together, they have helped the Bombers go from five wins in 2021, to 13 a year ago, and 25 this year - or five times more than when Minkkinen and her staff first began.

"I'm pretty lucky," said Minkkinen of her coaching staff.

"They play basketball the right away," added BBE's Anderson. "Hats off to Barnum and what they do. They're headed in the right direction."

The next direction for Klejeski meanwhile, will be as a member of the collegiate Golden Eagles. She even guarded a future Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference opponent in BBE's Berge last week. In the first half alone, the pair of next-level recruits scored 12 points each.

And with every Klejeski bucket, the maroon and gold faithful of the Barnum students, family and community roared and celebrated.

That atmosphere and taste of a ticket to the state tournament is something Minkkinen knows will fuel her returning cast.

"We've been there now," she said. "We're always trying to build on what we've done and I know these girls will want to get back there. It's been a fun ride."

A ride that now ends for Klejeski.

"It's something I'll remember forever," she said. "I already miss it. But, I don't regret anything. I couldn't ask for much more in my high school career."

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