Roseau County rivals become NCAA national champion teammates
Warroad's Katie Kotlowski and Roseau's Sophie Helgeson helped the Wisconsin Badgers win a national title.
GRAND FORKS — There was a time when Katie Kotlowski and Sophie Helgeson were on opposite sides of one of Minnesota's top high school hockey rivalries.
Kotlowski played for Warroad. Helgeson played for Roseau.
"We always knew about each other," Helgeson said. "We used to kind of be rivals."
Times have changed.
Kotlowski and Helgeson became college teammates at the University of Wisconsin last season. They joined on a defensive pairing together this season. And last weekend, they helped the Badgers win their seventh NCAA national championship.
The Roseau County duo helped shut down defending national champion Ohio State in the final. Wisconsin won 1-0 in Duluth's AmsOil Arena.
"It was amazing," Helgeson said. "I could probably give you so many words to describe it. It doesn't feel real. I think it's finally starting to kick in."
It marked the first national championship for Helgeson, a sophomore, and the second for Kotlowski, who was a freshman on the 2021 Badgers team.
"Honestly, it feels surreal," Kotlowski said. "Being able to win another national championship is just an awesome feeling, especially being underdogs in the tournament. It's huge for our program. It's been awesome."
Wisconsin entered the tournament unseeded.
The Badgers traveled to a regional in Hamilton, N.Y., and beat Long Island University in the opening round, then upset No. 3-seeded Colgate in the quarterfinals.
Wisconsin then upset No. 2 Minnesota in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals and No. 1 Ohio State in the final.
"Knowing we were the underdogs and had nothing to lose was a big motivator for us," Kotlowski said. "We knew the level we were capable of playing at. Going into the national tournament, there were some nerves, but that's pretty natural. I'm glad we came out on top and left everything out there."
Kotlowski played in all 41 games this season, tallying a goal, seven points and a plus-18 rating. Helgeson played in 38 games, tallying an assist and a plus-10 rating.
They often played together on Wisconsin's third pairing.
"Playing with Helgy has been so awesome," Kotlowski said. "We knew each other in high school. We were rivals. Now, looking where we are as 'D' partners and best friends. . . I'm so thankful Madison brought us together. It's a dream come true I guess. It's pretty cool to see the Northern girls on top."
They've gone from rivals to friends to national champions.
"It's crazy to think about our paths together," Helgeson said. "It's just been a blast playing with each other."