Playoff time is near

By Chuck Kajer

It’s only late January, but March Madness is not that far away.

In Minnesota high school sports, March Madness begins a couple weeks early, with the first tournaments of the season. This year, that’s the state high school girls hockey tournament February 23-25 and the state gymnastics meet, held the same weekend.

And like the past two years, New Prague has teams that stand a good chance to qualify for the state tournament in both of those sports.

Coach Dan Gullickson’s girls hockey team has just three games remaining in its regular season, and those are three tough ones against Prior Lake, Shakopee and Holy Angels. Both the Lakers and the Stars have talented teams that will be looking to finish their season on a strong note by beating a state-ranked team. Shakopee has been ranked in the top 10 during the season and gave the Trojans a tough game when the teams met in early January.

New Prague finishes its season February 3 against the only Missota Conference team it hasn’t beaten, Holy Angels. Last year the two teams met in the state semifinals, with the Stars winning on their way to the state championship. New Prague will no doubt be looking at this game in the same way Shakopee and Prior Lake will look at the Trojans… as an opportunity to enter the playoffs on a roll.

The Trojans are all but assured of a No. 1 seed in the section, which would mean a first round bye. They would host a second round game on Friday, Feb. 9, with the section semifinals and finals February 14 and 16 at Gustavus Adolphus. The state tournament will be held February 23-25, and for the first time it will be played at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

The Trojan gymnastics team was looking at a rebuilding year after graduating four seniors, all of whom earned individual state honors in their careers. But the rebuilding seems to be going strong as the team is ranked No. 5 in Class A.

New Prague, however, will face a little stiffer competition this year if they are to make an eighth straight state tournament appearance. Lakeville South has been assigned to Section 2AA this season. During the regular season, the two Lakeville high schools are operating as one team and competing well in the tough Lake Conference. For the post-season, though, the two schools will go their separate ways. The combined Lakeville squad is loaded with players from South, and the Cougars and Trojans look to be headed for a showdown February 17 in Mankato. The state meet is February 24-25 at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul, which is adjacent to the Xcel Energy Center.

Unfortunately for fans of both teams, if New Prague qualifies for state in each of those sports, the starting time would be the same for the hockey game and the gymnastics meet—11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 24.

The Trojan wrestling team is also nearing the end of its season. The Section 2AA team meet begins in New Prague Saturday, Feb. 18. The individual tourney will be February 24-25 in Mankato.

Other sports will be winding down in the next month as well, but whether you’re a fan of basketball, hockey, wrestling, gymnastics or floor hockey, there will be plenty of opportunities to go out and support your favorite Trojan sports teams.

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