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Girls 12U team qualifies for state

Gary Vaudrin expected the Park Rapids girls 12-under hockey team to have another successful season.

So it didn't come as much of a surprise when this year's group made history by becoming the first Park Rapids hockey team at any level to qualify for a state tournament.

Park Rapids qualified for the Minnesota State Girls 12-Under B Tournament by winning the Olympic Region title last weekend at Proctor.

Park Rapids opened the region tournament with a 3-2 win over Hibbing and an 8-1 victory over Cloquet last Friday.

On Saturday, Park Rapids defeated Fergus Falls 6-1 to finish 3-0 in the Red Division. That pitted Park Rapids against Roseau, the Blue Division runner-up, for a spot in the state tournament.

Park Rapids completed its mission with a 4-1 victory over Roseau on Sunday to qualify for state. Proctor edged Hibbing 3-2 in overtime to claim the region's other state berth.

"This group had a vision as 10-under players to some day get to state," said Vaudrin, who coached the 12-under team along with Dion Pederson and Scott Johnson. "This group is very goal-orientated. They set three goals in January. They wanted to place first in the league. They wanted to place in the top three in the district tournament to go to regions. And they wanted to finish in the top two at regions and go to state. They did all those things. Now we have to add to that list."

Leading Park Rapids this season were goalie Shania Johnson; forwards Kendra Dresow, Hannah Gorder, Bailee Jerger, Makenna Persing, Alex Pederson, Samantha Wiese, Abby Fischer and Abbey Kisner; and defensemen Julia Renner, Mady Vaudrin, Lauren Naeve and Jessie O'Hern. Goalie Julia Smith moved up from the 10-under team to serve as a back-up goalie.

Park Rapids began its state tournament run by winning the league title with a 10-1-1 record.

At the District 15 tournament, Park Rapids defeated Fergus Falls 7-2 and Alexandria 2-1 to qualify for the region tournament.

Park Rapids then went undefeated at the Olympic Region tournament to advance to the state tournament.

In the 3-2 win over Hibbing, Fischer and Jerger scored in the first period to give Park Rapids a 2-0 lead. Another goal by Jerger made it 3-1 before Hibbing added a late goal. Johnson finished with 19 saves as Hibbing held a 21-20 edge in shots.

A six-goal third period sealed Park Rapids' 8-1 win over Cloquet. Jerger and Pederson scored in the first period as Park Rapids led 2-1. Kisner had an assist on Jerger's goal. Jerger added three goals and Pederson had two goals in the third period. Fischer also scored in that period. Wiese, Gorder, Renner and Dresow tallied one assist each. Johnson finished with 20 saves as Park Rapids held a 35-21 advantage in shots.

Park Rapids earned a spot in the region finals with a 6-1 win over Fergus Falls. Goals by Naeve, Renner and Jerger gave Park Rapids a 3-0 lead after the first period. Jerger and Dresow had assists in the opening period. Dresow and Fischer scored in the second period as Park Rapids extended its lead to 5-0. Jerger and Wiese had assists in that period. Park Rapids sealed the win when Dresow set up Jerger for a 6-0 lead. Johnson tallied 13 saves as Park Rapids held a 33-14 edge in shots on goal.

In the championship game, Vaudrin had assists on goals by Kisner in the first period and Jerger in the second period to give Park Rapids a 2-0 lead. Pederson scored late in the third period for a 3-1 lead before Naeve, who assisted on Pederson's goal, scored an empty-net goal to seal the win. Johnson had 12 saves as Park Rapids held a 31-13 edge in shots.

"These girls believed in themselves and worked hard to get here. They understood what they needed to do," said Vaudrin. "This is a very athletic group and a very competitive group. They worked a lot on skills over the summer and they worked hard in practice. They work well as a team. They understand what it takes to be a team."

Now this group will attempt to fulfill one final goal: to win a state championship. The state B tournament will be held March 20-22 at Breezy Point Arena in Pequot Lakes.

Park Rapids opens the tournament March 20 at 2 p.m. against Centennial, which is rated No. 1 in the latest state poll. The winner of that game plays the winner between Lakeville and Princeton March 21 at 4 p.m. with the losers meeting March 21 at noon in the consolation bracket. The consolation final is set for March 22 at noon, followed by the third-place game at 2 p.m. and the championship game at 4 p.m.

The other teams in the tournament are Osseo/Maple Grove, Red Wing, Proctor and Eden Prairie. Red Wing (No. 3), Princeton (No. 4), Proctor (No. 5) and Eden Prairie (No. 8) are also ranked in the latest state poll.

"We know it's going to be another tough tournament," said Vaudrin, whose team will carry a 23-5-2 overall record to state. Of those five losses, four are to A level teams. "The competition is going to be tough, but if we play our game we'll do OK. We always tell the girls that if you work hard, good things will happen. We'll see what happens. It's going to be exciting for the girls."