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Voyageur's Best Sports of 2004

Alexa Grones controls the basketball while playing the Mustangs

Cromwell leaves a MARK!
Cardinal girls basketball goes to state!
by John Grones  | March 23, 2004

A quote from the legendary UCLA coach, John Wooden says, “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” A very accurate quote for the Cromwell Cardinal girls basketball team that entered the Minnesota State Girls Basketball Tournament Thur., Mar. 18 with a 23-3 record.

Cromwell entered the tournament with the smallest school enrollment of 77. Not only that, they were the smallest in stature by a wide margin (tallest girl 5’8” tall).

What they lacked in size, they made up for in heart and determination. It didn’t take long to discover the Cromwell girls had ignored the bright lights of Williams Arena and focused on the task at hand – to leave their mark and win their first game in the tournament.

The Cardinals revealed their character early by scrapping their way to a first-round victory over Granada-Huntley-East Chain, 49-47. It was a game to remember, because Cromwell came away with much more than a team victory.

After a very hard fought first half, Cromwell persevered through a ‘David and Goliath’ situation and secured a 21-20 half-time lead. The only question Cromwell had going into the locker room, was how to stop the Mustang’s dominant 5’11” post player, Katie Blazejak. Blazejak had 14 of the team’s 20 points on 7-10 shooting.

Despite no answer for Blazejak, the Cardinals responded and showed great energy to open the second half. Kylee Smith, who was voted to the all-tournament team, took the ball right to the basket and converted a lay-up. Blazejak would miss her next attempt and Jeana Anderson would hit the next basket putting Cromwell ahead by four points before the game was halted.

Cromwell assistant coach, Jen Painovich, turned around to discover that her father, Tony Petrick, was being treated for a heart attack right behind the team bench. The entire Cromwell section was in shock, except for a small group of Emergency Medical Technicians from Cromwell that immediately assessed the situation and sprung to action. (See front page story).

The Cromwell team huddled on the court and after Heather Maki led the team in prayer, they were escorted to the locker room where they would sit and wait for the outcome. The twenty minutes they waited took forever, but it was finally reported that Tony Petrick had been revived and was on his way to Hennepin County Medical Center where he would have quadruple bypass surgery a day later.

Jen joined her family to be with her father at the hospital and Amy Stodolka, the junior high coach, joined Dave Foster on the bench for the remainder of the game.

The delay and anxious moments did not bode well for the Cardinals. Before the team knew it, the Mustangs had outscored Cromwell 10-0 and took their own five-point lead. Blazejak was back to dominating inside and the Cardinals couldn’t hit a shot.

Coach Foster called a timeout to settle his team down, or as he put it... “for them to settle me down.” The Cardinals got it together and finished out the quarter revealing their character. Out of the timeout, Kylee Smith converted a lay-up and Jeana Anderson hit back-to-back three point baskets. “I felt comfortable shooting today,” said Jeana who was also guarding the other big post player, 6’0” Abby Shoen. “I started out guarding the big girl. She was real tall.” Jeana’s offense and defense turned out to be a big difference in the game. Jeana would end up with 15 points, six steals, four rebounds and two blocks.

After Jeana’s second 3-pointer tied the game, Blazejak scored three more points and Alexa Grones finished the third quarter scoring with two free throws.

The fourth quarter not only revealed the team character, but it also revealed another team trait that John Wooden has often quoted about great teams. He says, “It’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.”

This sums up the Cromwell girls basketball team the entire season. They are a team that maintained balanced scoring all season long and they are exceptional at sharing the basketball. They recording over 20 assists in several ball games during the season.

The fourth quarter was highlighted by four players stepping up in key situations: down by four points, Kylee drove to the basket and was fouled. She hit both free throws; down by three, Kelcie hit a jumper; down by three more, Alexa hit a 3-pointer to tie; down again by three with two minutes to play, Jeana hit two free throws to pull the team to within one point, 44-45.

The dramatic finish would conclude with another easy basket by Katie Blazejak for another three-point lead before both teams traded possessions and the Mustangs called a timeout. It was a good timeout for Cromwell, because head coach Dave Foster drew up a play for Kylee Smith. “It was a double screen for me on the weak-side,” said Kylee. “She was laying off me so I fired it.” The fade away 3-pointer hit nothing but the bottom of the net to tie the score at 47-47 with just 1:22 to go in the game.

On the other end of the court, the Cardinals picked up the defense and pressured the Mustangs into a turnover and coach Foster called a timeout with 48 seconds remaining to set up the game winning basket.

The initial play didn’t produce an open shot but there was plenty of time to run another. The heads-up team tried the pick and roll that has been successful all year, but that play was cut off by the Mustangs as well. Then, with 23 seconds to go, Alexa Grones made a basket cut and Kylee Smith hit her with a perfect pass. Alexa converted the lay-up for a 49-47 lead.

Once again, the Cards were faced with a defensive situation. A situation they have been in before. The pesky Cards swarmed all over Blazejak who had already scored over half of her team’s points. In the end, the Mustang’s Lori Balcom was forced to drive and she was fouled with less than a second remaining. The sophomore forward missed the first and intentionally missed the second in hopes of tapping the ball in for a tie. The ball caromed away and the Cardinals secured their first ever victory at the State basketball tournament.

The girls went on to lose their next two games (see page 14), but for now the team is going to relax and enjoy the moment. It won’t be long before the team and their coach begin reflecting on another of John Wooden’s famous quotes, “Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”

This article first appeared in the March 23, 2004 issue of the Voyageur Press.