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Three Minnesota 8A girls hockey teams ranked in state's top five

East Grand Forks goalie Mckenzie Whalen stops a shot by Warroad's Hannah Corneliusen in the third period in their game Nov. 21 at the East Grand Forks Civic by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Last week's Minnesota girls hockey state rankings had East Grand Forks Senior High sitting in the No. 5 spot in Class A.

While that's a strong showing for the Green Wave, it also leaves them as underdogs to even make the championship game in the Section 8A tournament in February.

Sitting atop the rankings are fellow 8A teams Warroad in the No. 1 spot and Thief River Falls at No. 1.

"We have a tough section,'' Senior High coach Jim Enright said. "It's kind of crazy.''

The fifth spot is actually a drop for the Green Wave. In the previous rankings, it was Warroad and Thief River Falls in the first and second spots and Senior High at No. 4.

"In the 12 years I've been coaching, I've never seen that before, having three teams (from one section) in the top four in the state rankings,'' Warroad coach David Marvin said. "We've had great teams in the section. The top three have always have been very strong. But to be 1-2-4, that's a lot of respect for our section.''

Some circumstances have helped boost Section 8A into its rankings dominance.

Perennial Class A power Blake switched to Class AA this season. Another powerful program, Breck, has struggled early, a combination of a difficult schedule and a team in rebuilding mode. But, Marvin said, that doesn't lessen the recognition 8A has received as teams near the season's midway point.

"Every year we've gone to the state tournament, at the tournament banquet I've told people how fortunate we've been just to get out of our section,'' Marvin said. "Our section has been so strong. If you win Section 8A, you're a good hockey team.

"I think this is a typical season in Section 8A. It's tough every year. We're just getting the respect we've probably deserved in the past.''

The teams already have met this season.

Warroad and Senior High skated to a 3-3 tie. Warroad owns a 3-0 win against Thief River Falls, while the Prowlers beat Senior High 3-0 in their first matchup.

Warroad (9-2-2) has been led by senior Madison Oelkers (21-14 goals-13 assists) on the first line and sophomore Hannah Corneliusen (20-7) on the second line. Oelkers has signed to play at Mankato State while defenseman Kaitlyn Kotlowski (6-7) has committed to play at Wisconsin. Freshman Genevieve Henrickson (6-30) has been a playmaker.

"Our forwards are fast,'' Marvin said. "They have skills. And we're balanced. It's very similar to our successful teams in the past. We have a couple girls who can really put the puck in the net and they're surrounded by kids who play a great team game.''

Thief River Falls (9-1-1 entering the weekend) has a new head coach in Brett Johnson and a young team, with only four seniors on the roster.

Shelby Breiland (14-9) and Jaimee Nelson (8-12) lead a balanced offense, with Tessa Jorde (4-7) and Khloe Lund (2-10) anchoring the defense corps. "We're balanced,'' Johnson said. "We have two lines that have pretty equally carried the load.''

Senior High (9-3-1) has 11 seniors on its roster. Cynthia Loven (18-4), Livia Pesch (7-11) and Nicole Schlenk (10-6) lead a balanced offense. Kenzie Whalen (1.72 goals-against average, .944 save percentage) excels in goal.

"Kenzie is, without a doubt, the best goalie in the section,'' Enright said. "She has a lot of skills, a lot of talent. And we've got scoring that we haven't had the past few years.''

While all three teams have excelled, they'll be playing for one state berth come section tournament time.

"In our corner of the state, to have the 1-2-5 teams in the rankings is pretty amazing,'' Johnson said. "It shows the tradition in the north. In the end, however, only one team gets to move on to state.''