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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Cass Lake-Bena rolls to historic section title, topping WAO 71-53

CLB handily defeated Warren-Alvarado-Oslo 71-53 in the Section 8A championship game on Friday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls. The victory delivered Cass Lake-Bena its fifth state berth all-time and back-to-back titles for the first time in program history.

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Cass Lake-Bena senior Krisalyn Seelye (5) and the Panthers cut down the nets after winning the Section 8A championship game on Friday, March 11, 2022, at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

THIEF RIVER FALLS -- Krisalyn Seelye ascended the ladder, her eyes fixed on the hoop.

Plenty of her Cass Lake-Bena girls basketball teammates had already taken scissors to the nylon, so Seelye grabbed the weathered net and ripped it from the rim without so much as a single snip.

She raised it high in celebration, then donned it as a necklace befitting a section champion.

“It means everything to me,” the senior guard said. “Me and these girls grew up playing basketball together. We’ve always dreamed of this. To do it two years in a row, it’s amazing.”

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Cass Lake-Bena captains (from left) Taryn Frazer, Krisalyn Seelye and Amira Laduke hold up the Section 8A championship trophy after defeating Warren-Alvarado-Oslo 71-53 on Friday, March 11, 2022, at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

CLB handily defeated Warren-Alvarado-Oslo 71-53 in the Section 8A championship game on Friday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls. The victory delivered Cass Lake-Bena its fifth state berth all-time and back-to-back titles for the first time in program history.

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“It’s an amazing feeling to be able to finish it with amazing seniors and amazing people surrounding you,” freshman Gabby Fineday said. “It’s amazing to pull it out.”

The Panthers left no doubt, dominating the night and earning the rights to first-place hardware. They convincingly decided the outcome with a 21-1 first-half run, and it was safe to book state reservations from then on.

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The Panthers celebrate after defeating Warren-Alvarado-Oslo 71-53 in the Section 8A championship on Friday, March 11, 2022, at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

“We came out and took it,” head coach Martin Wind said. “They really wanted it. … As soon as that clock hit zero, you could hear the girls (celebrating). It was awesome, and the fans were awesome.”

The fourth-seeded Ponies (17-9) stuck around for nine minutes, hanging within 13-12. But the drama evaporated when top-seeded CLB (28-2) answered with a 21-1 run, which included a string of 16 straight points, to jump in front 34-13.

Seelye started it with a 3-pointer, and she soon caught fire for a personal 8-0 run on a layup and back-to-back triples. Fineday, Taryn Frazer and Amira Laduke all poured in baskets of their own, while the Cass Lake-Bena defense didn’t allow a point for a 5:42 stretch.

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Cass Lake-Bena freshman Gabby Fineday (21) shoots for a 3-pointer in the first half of the Section 8A championship game against Warren-Alvarado-Oslo on Friday, March 11, 2022, at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

“We just really stepped up our defense,” Seelye said. “We boxed out, we rebounded, and we pushed the ball. We do it really well, so when teams let us, that’s when we take over.”

“No one was in foul trouble, so I told them to pressure up a little bit and get closer,” Wind said. “We extended our full-court press a little bit higher. We went man-to-man and forced them into a lot of turnovers. Every single girl played really good, tight defense. That was the key to get a 21-1 run there.”

The Panthers led 42-19 by halftime, and it didn’t get much closer in the second half. WAO found more consistent buckets to avoid another big run at its expense, but the damage had certainly been done by then.

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CLB emptied its bench with plenty of time to spare, affording Mataya Mitchell the second-half highlight with a step-back jumper that sent the crowd into a frenzy over the fan favorite’s heroics.

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Cass Lake-Bena junior Mataya Mitchell (41) scores in the second half of the Section 8A championship game against Warren-Alvarado-Oslo on Friday, March 11, 2022, at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

“They show us so much support,” Seelye said of the fans. “They always show out for us. It’s really nice to see the stands packed for us. It feels really good.”

Seelye finished with a game-high 21 points, while Fineday had 19 and Frazer 17.

Lily Bayne and Annika Magnusson led Warren-Alvarado-Oslo with 15 and 14 points, respectively.

The Class A state tournament is scheduled to run from March 17-19 at Maturi Pavilion and Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Seedings, matchups and tipoff times are still to be determined.

But make no mistake: Whenever the Panthers are playing, their fans will be right there with them.

“They support us a lot, and I’m just really happy that we can give back,” Fineday said. “We come from a little town, and it’s awesome to be able to do this.”

Martin Wind named 8A Coach of the Year

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Cass Lake-Bena coach Martin Wind gives direction from the bench in the first half of the Section 8A championship game against Warren-Alvarado-Oslo on Friday, March 11, 2022, at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

Cass Lake-Bena head coach Martin Wind was named the Section 8A Coach of the Year by the Minnesota Girls Basketball Coaches Association on Thursday.

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Wind led the Panthers to a 24-2 regular-season record, which included a 14-game win streak heading into the postseason. CLB also claimed the 8A East Subsection’s No. 1 seed for the section tournament.

Garry Kotts of Stephen-Argyle was named the Section 8A Assistant Coach of the Year. Other Coach of the Year honorees were Kasey Krekling of Hayfield (Section 1A); Kris Gustin of Mayer Lutheran (2A); Derek Ashbaugh of Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (3A); Greg Wilson of New Life Academy (4A); Jennifer Burns of Browerville (5A); Brian Hovland of Underwood (6A); and Jeff Buffetta of Mt. Iron-Buhl (7A).

Cass Lake-Bena 71, Warren-Alvarado-Oslo 53

WAO 19 34 -- 53

CLB 42 29 -- 71

WARREN-ALVARADO-OSLO (17-9) -- Bayne 15, Magnusson 14, Peterson 10, Wright 6, Nelson 4, Michalski 2, Oberg 2.

CASS LAKE-BENA (28-2) --Seelye 21, Fineday 19, Frazer 17, LaDuke 7, J. Wind 3, Mitchell 2, A. Wind 2.

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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