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Trio Pushing for Minn Lead

  • 28 Apr 2016
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North Suburban flanker Sam Kientop carrying against Armstrong. /// Photo: Mike Morrissey

 

The top tier of Minnesota is shaking up in more ways than one. A couple of combination teams have upped the level of competition in the high school ranks, while longtime reigning champion Armstrong has suffered a pair of single-digit defeats to Hopkins and North Suburban.

 

North Suburban coach Mikayla Miller also serves as the high school commissioner, and with Armstrong coach Jimmy Hanson as overseer, the pair aimed to cultivate a more competitive league this year. So when Hopkins and Orono, and Eagan and South River wanted to merge, Miller and Hanson supported their decisions for a better quality league. There is still a spring 7s option for developing teams, and that league starts next week.

 

The last few years have seen Armstrong, North Suburban and Hopkins rise to the top, and it’s no coincidence. The trio are heavy contributors to the state all-star team, Minnesota Tundra, and that extra exposure pays off on the pitch. Between the three teams, the gap might even be closing, as North Suburban defeated Armstrong 19-15 yesterday, and Hopkins topped the longtime reigning state champion 24-17 the week prior.

 

“I had a good conversation with Jimmy [Hanson] after the game, and we talked about how cool it is that the work we’re all doing with Tundra is paying off,” Miller said. “Orono’s been a part of it, too, but with extra programming, we’re starting to pull from other areas that haven’t been part of the high performance experience.

 

“Obviously we’re happy with the win,” the coach reflected on yesterday’s victory. “But it’s cool to see the level of the league rising. The majority of the season is against very tough competition, so it’s easier to keep the kids on track and give them something to look forward to. This is exactly what we wanted to see happen with the league.”

 

The win against Armstrong was North Suburban’s first regular-season 15s victory over the powerhouse, at least since Miller’s been with the team these last five years. Leading performances from veterans like senior Brooke Miller and junior Tatum Johnson, who played with the Atavus All Stars in the LVI’s Elite division, guide a healthy roster infused with young talent. The game itself was a back-and-forth affair, and North Suburban trailed at the half.

 

“It wasn’t until the last five minutes or so that we picked things up offensively,” Miller said. “Going into the last minutes, Armstrong wasn’t able to string together the success they had enjoyed all day on offense.

 

“It was cool to see them proud of their performance yesterday,” the coach added. “Hard work pays off and they felt good about the effort they put in. That was the best part of yesterday, and they’re looking forward to the rest of the season.”

 

Yesterday marked North Suburban’s third league game, but the team had loaded its pre-season with extra fixtures, including a 3-0 showing at the Border Battle against Wisconsin teams, St. John University’s invitational, and Tundra appearances at the LVI.

 

“It’s been invaluable. We’ve been able to do that the last two year,” Miller confirmed the benefits of extra game time. “I see us doing well for the rest of the season. And hopefully come state tournament time, we’ll continue to do better. That’s our motto this year: Make the next one better.”

 

The two undefeated teams – North Suburban and Hopkins – will meet next week to sort out the standings. The top two teams will receive byes through the first round of playoffs, and the state championship will occur on June 11. Stay tuned as the tight race continues.

 

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