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Terry Vandrovec column: Eagles find new path to state

The New York Mills wrestling program, while it has produced five individual state champions, has been haunted by one flaw: location, location, location.

The New York Mills wrestling program, while it has produced five individual state champions, has been haunted by one flaw: location, location, location.

"New York Mills has always been a real quality program," Eagles coach Eric Niemi said. "And it just seems like they've been in that section where there's always been a powerhouse."

That's fact, not perception.

Moorhead dominated the area in the single-class system of the 1970s. Staples-Motley won 15 consecutive section championships from 1976 to 1990. Frazee has won 10 titles since.

Although the city of New York Mills may have been willing to up and move just to gain entry into the state tournament duals, the latest batch of section realignments by the Minnesota State High School League made sure it didn't have to.

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The No. 9-ranked Eagles (20-4) beat top-seeded Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale 43-16 Saturday to win the Class 1A, Section 7 title. So while the likes of Frazee and Badger-Greenbush-Middle River will duke it out Friday in the Section 8 team tournament, the Eagles already have a reservation to meet No. 3 Wabasso March 4 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

But that's not to say Niemi doesn't believe his squad couldn't give Section 8 a run. New York Mills, with just two starting seniors and two ranked wrestlers, has seven guys with 20-plus wins and pushed the No. 2-ranked Hornets before falling 33-31 this season.

"These guys have never seen a state tournament," said Niemi, whose team placed only one individual at state in 2003. "We've just got a real steady lineup of really quality kids, and if you're going to beat us you have to be pretty deep."

Yellowjackets return to state

This time around, Perham will take more than the top score in Class 1A gymnastics (148.0125) into Friday and Saturday's state meet at Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul.

"I think last year was a learning experience, and with age comes maturity," said coach Charlie Fleck, whose team was also ranked No. 1 last year, but finished sixth in its first state trip. "And our skill level has still increased."

But Perham, seemingly, hasn't aged. Sophomore Betsy Mann is the oldest of six state-bound gymnasts.

Something else

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Fergus Falls' streak of seven consecutive boys hockey section titles, the longest active run in the state, will be on the line at Friday. The fourth-seeded Otters (8-14-1) faced top-seeded Wadena-Deer Creek (23-1), which beat them 4-0 earlier this season, in the Class 1A, Section 4 semifinals. ... A 4:15 p.m. contest between the No. 7-ranked Hawley girls (20-2) and No. 6 Bagley (20-0) highlights four prep basketball games Saturday at Concordia College. ... Perham senior girls basketball player Claire Honer surpassed 1,000 career points Thursday.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Terry Vandrovec at (701) 241-5548 or tvandrovec@forumcomm.com

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