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Grand Rapids rolls over Cloquet for three-peat

One wouldn't be able to tell by seeing the Cloquet senior's red, teary eyes afterward, but Macie Majerle saved her best basketball game for last.

Entering last week scoring just 5 points per contest, Majerle more than tripled that, scoring a team-best 18 points in looking to lead the Lumberjacks to their first state tournament since 2004.

"I didn't want it to be over," Majerle said. "I knew I had to step up."

Grand Rapids stepped in the way, winning its third consecutive Section 7AAA crown by beating Cloquet 59-43 last Thursday at Duluth Denfeld.

Despite having their top scorer and Division I North Dakota State commit Taryn Hamling unavailable to play, the Thunderhawks (26-2) tore to their 26th straight win, trailing only once - following the game's opening basket by Cloquet.

A quick, double-digit lead surmounted from the do-it-all play of Jessika Lofstrom, as the talented forward seemingly couldn't miss from anywhere on the floor. Lofstrom finished with a game-best 27 points, 20 of those in the opening half.

If making 12 of their first 27 shots wasn't enough en route to a 30-19 halftime advantage, Grand Rapids sank 11-of-17 attempts in the second, finishing an eye-popping 23-for-44 - or 52 percent - from the floor.

"Give them credit," said Cloquet coach Heather Young. "They shot the ball extremely well. That was a team we hadn't seen before."

While Lofstrom was the show in the first frame, her teammates collectively finished, as Braya LaPlant tallied 11 points, Kate Jamtgaard nine and both Kyra Giffen and Amanda Scherping scored six each.

"I'm really proud of what they did," said Thunderhawks coach Kris Hamling, noting it was their best 36-minute effort all season long. "We wanted all five girls to touch the ball. We didn't want the first shot, or a good shot. We wanted a great shot. And, they never let down."

While the Lumberjacks (17-11), were down by as many as 19 in the second half, Cloquet remained relevant with Majerle's never-give-in play, as the 5-foot-8 forward made eight consecutive free-throws at one point and poured in 12 of her team's 24 second-half points.

"Just to see her shine, I was just so happy," said Young. "She's a kid who doesn't get a lot of accolades or ink, but she's stuck with it. It was such a great way for her to leave our program. What a great memory for her."

Senior Alexa Snesrud agreed.

"Seriously, I've never seen her take control like that," she said. "She wanted the ball, was finishing, and she played her heart out. I'm just so proud of her."

Snesrud, who finished her prep career as the eighth Lumberjack in school history to eclipse 1,000 points with a total of 1,278, was held to just 6 points against relentless Thunderhawks pressure.

Ava Carlson, with 8 points, was often was surrounded by four orange jerseys hounding the ball.

"They played really strong," Snesrud said of a Grand Rapids defense that allowed just 11 made field goals from Cloquet all game.

"They just outplayed us," Majerle said.

The Lumberjacks wanted to avenge last year's championship loss to Grand Rapids. Having come from three wins in 2020 and six in 2021, to a combined 37 victories over the past two seasons, calling it a program turnaround may be putting it lightly.

And the community support of purple-clad fans last week was evident and abundant. Young said she received many texts, social media posts and emails from colleagues, alumni and everything in between before the game.

"That's what makes me most proud," Young said. "The pride and tradition we have. That never gets forgotten."

Nor will the two seniors, who along with the rest of the Lumberjacks, wrapped their arms around each other when the final buzzer sounded to take one last moment.

"We just cried together," said Majerle of her teammates. "They're just so special to me."

"Knowing it was my last time playing with those guys was hard," said Snesrud, who began wearing a purple and white Lumberjack jersey in kindergarten. "I'm still sad about it."

Snesrud will soon be running track this spring and is planning to play basketball collegiately next year but is still undecided, while Majerle has already begun helping manage the softball team.

Both won't soon forget their time on the hardwood together.

"We've grown a lot as a program and as a team," Snesrud said. "And it's been so great having Macie by my side."

"I'm so grateful – I knew I wanted to be a part of this team," Majerle said. "It was great to get to the section final again. That game though, they just played better than us."

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