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Voyageur's Best Sports of 2004

Kylee Smith dribbles the basketball

Cardinals secure #1 seed
Cardinal girls claim share of the Polar League Championship
by John Grones  | March 2, 2004

They did it! The Cromwell Cardinal girls basketball team won a Polar League Championship for the first time in 13 years. The Cards defeated Wrenshall 44-31 on Fri., Feb. 27 in Cromwell. The win gave the team a final 13-2 conference record and a total of 16 points. The Cards tied with Esko, a team that Cromwell has an incredible history with dating back to the 1980s.

Esko finished the season with an 8-1 conference record – their only loss – to Cromwell. This certainly gives the Cards some bragging rights regarding who was the better team.

This is just the second time Cromwell has won the Polar League. The previous championship occured in 1991 and was also shared with another team. The Cardinals had an overall record of 14-9 and tied Floodwood for the conference title with nine points.

According to Oscar Eliason, the Cardinal girls basketball coach from 1982-1996, the championship came down to the last game with the Polar Bears. He recalled the final play vividly. “Leah Tiili, on the right wing, hit Lisa Heikkila with a perfect pass on the left side,” he said. “Lisa made a nice move to get open, received the pass and scored just before the buzzer. We won 43-42 in overtime.”

Other members on that Championship team included Theresa Kahara, Jen Koivisto, Tina Rasbacka, Elissa Cahoon, Angela Aho and Sandy Line. The team would later lose to Hermantown in the District final 50-40.

A year later, many of the same team members would put together an even better season. They went 19-5 losing in the sub-section final to McGregor, but placed second in the conference to Esko. In a memorable game for Oscar, the team also beat a strong Christ Household of Faith team 58-57 in overtime.

Over the 14 years that Oscar coached, he compiled a respectable 187-128 win-loss record. He made it to the District finals seven years and participated in the state tournament once. Oscar is still a faithful fan of the Cardinal girls and boys basketball teams. He attended most of the games this year and he compared this year’s team to the teams that he had. “We pressed all the time,” said Oscar. “We were more of a run-and-gun style team. This year’s team is much more disciplined. Of course, we had more depth and we were able to do that.”

Oscar does recognize some similarities – good athletes and no size. Oscar couldn’t recall many girls any taller than 5’8”. This year, the Cardinals tallest girl is Kelcie Smith at 5’ 8”. Despite being one of the smaller teams in the area, the Cardinal’s have made up for it with team defense and excellent shooting. “This team, defensively, is better than any team I’ve had in the past,” added Oscar. “They are also a very good shooting team.”

This past week also brought with it another nice accolade. On Sat., Feb. 28, it was announced that Cromwell’s very own Kylee Smith was named Conference MVP. The sophomore point guard, wing and post player received 8 of the 10 votes and was easily the number one choice. Kylee has been one of the top players in the area all year. She is listed in the Duluth New Tribune area honor roll in nearly every statistical category. She is 11th in scoring, averaging 17.1 points per game; 22nd in field goal efficiency with 45 percent; 11th in 3-point field goal efficiency with 33 percent; 18th in free throw efficiency shooting 67 percent; 10th in rebounding, averaging 9.4; 13th in assists, averaging 4.3; and 6th is steals, with 4.7 per game.

Senior Kelcie Smith was also selected to the all conference team. She is currently averaging 12.7 points and has an excellent field goal percentage of 46 percent.

In addition to a Polar League Championship, the Cardinals secured the #1 seed in the Section 7A Eastern bracket. They will play the winner of Silver Bay and Wrenshall at 7:45 p.m. on Thurs., March 4 in Hermantown.

Oh so close...

Other great seasons the Cardinal girls experienced:

1983: The Cardinals began a series of five straight district final match-ups with the Esko Eskimos. Led by Julie Collman, Carol Randall, Shari Mattson, Beth Clark and Teresa Clark, the Cromwell Cardinals put together a 19-2 record losing only to Esko. They lost once in the regular season 65-56 and once in the District finals 51-41. Beth Clark reached the 1,000-point milestone and finished her career with 1,240 points.

1984: The Cardinals continued to do well. Two new faces emerged on the team. Sandy Randall and Heidi Clark. The team finished with a 16-5 record and again lost to Esko in the District finals, but this time by just two points, 60-58.

1985: Esko was finally defeated. The Cardinals beat Esko 47-40 in the district finals. Led by Julie Collman, Heidi Clark, Monica Debele, Sandy Randall, Jerri Haugan and Corri Cahoon, the team compiled a record of 18-4. The team ended up facing a tough Rush City team in the Region Semifinals and lost 55-42. The game started off on an unusual note. Julie Collman, who is the all-time leading scorer in Cromwell history with 1,699 points, could also be the school’s all time leading scorer for the other team. She opened the Region Tournament by scoring a layup for Rush City off the opening tip.

They made it to state!

1986: It was Cromwell’s year. They defeated Esko twice during the year. Once during the regular season 66-64 and then later in the District final 49-45. They then went on to defeat Nashwauk-Keewatin 52-48 and Eveleth for the Region Championship 63-52. Julie Collman completed an outstanding career at Cromwell High School. She scored 1,699 career points. Other members of the team included Monica Debele, Hiedi Clark, Teresa Frank and Sandy Randall.

More success

1987-1988: The team continued to play well. They again made it to the District final, but lost to Esko 45-26 in 1987. They took 3rd place in Districts the following year. Heidi Clark finished her career with 1,562 career points. Teresa Frank would also reach 1,052.

This article first appeared in the March 2, 2004 issue of the Voyageur Press.