The state football semi-finalists take on the US Bank Stadium
Add a trip to the US Bank Stadium for the semi-finals of the Class 1A state football tournament to the list of entertaining premieres of the Pine Island / Zumbrota-Mazeppa program.
The awards pile up. The fifth seeded Wildcats go into their Wednesday game at 5:00 p.m. against number 1 seeded Southwest Christian, unbeaten 17-0-2. It has never happened before. They won the Hiawatha Valley League. Something new too. And finally, during the season, they beat the other Southern Minnesota Rochester Lourdes and Winona programs.
Not so new, however, is the need for Pine Island / Zumbrota-Mazeppa to present itself on a larger football stage. Coach Rafal Konik recalled starting a walking football program eight years ago when a relatively unknown PIZM program began competing in Twin Cities tournaments.
âYou are asked: ‘PIZM, where is that?’ âSaid Konik, who helped expand the number of traveling teams from a boys ‘team at the start to a total of eight boys and girls’ teams in 2019.
PIZM benefits from a trio of scoring opportunities in Dan Mikaeo (16 goals), Drew Christopherson (13) and Christopher Tree (12). A massive switch to the post-season slate didn’t hurt either.
The addition of a third class paved the way for the Wildcats. Larger Austin and Byron schools were promoted to Grade 2A. Additional shuffling put PIZM in Section 2, away from Rochester Lourdes in Section 1. The Eagles won their section and will play in the other semi-finals on Wednesday at 7pm.
“Everything is new on our trip,” said Konik. âWe try to enjoy it and keep learning and improving. For the families of the younger players in our communities, they have more hope. You can say, ‘Look at Pine Island / Zumbrota-Mazeppa at Get this far, maybe one day we can.’ “
Last four familiarity
Playoff excitement hits the boys’ football programs like an anvil. Especially in class 3A, where Duluth East, the eighth team in the last coaching survey, is the only top 10 team still alive. The No. 2 seeded greyhounds will play against the not seeded Rosemount on Wednesday at 10 a.m. in the second semi-final of the day.
Conversely, the final four teams in the Class 3A girls programs simply copied their regular season finals and pasted them into their state tournament seeds: No. 1 Edina, followed by Centennial, Rosemount and Stillwater.
This gives Stillwater trainer Mike Huber a unique perspective. His ponies are the only team that has played against the other three semi-finalists. You lost every time. But Huber is of the opinion that the experience meant a lot.
“As coaches, we had the feeling all along that it was good for us to play our tough schedule in the section and state playoffs because our players would see the level at which they have to compete,” said Huber.
Led by the all-state selections Marisa Bonilla and CJ Fredkove, the ponies will meet the unbeaten Edina on Thursday at 8 a.m.
“I think the defeat against all these teams the first time,” said Huber, “gives us a little extra motivation.”