Smile and say “State!” Lakeville North athletes from five of the school’s state tournament teams (boys and girls) in football, hockey and basketball gathered for a group photo. Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune
A remarkable and rare run of success is forcing Lakeville North activities director Russ Reetz to develop interior decorating skills.
Five Panthers teams — football and all four basketball and hockey teams — reached their state tournaments this school year.
A large, affluent community passionate about youth sports has helped create a winning culture — and gymnasium walls short on space to recognize the excellence.
That culture also is nurtured by the school’s athletes, who have found themselves inspired by their peers this school season and are playing the role of minor celebrities.
“A little kid in the neighborhood came up to me and asked if I knew No. 6 [Max Johnson],” said Tristen Hazlett, a senior captain of the boys’ hockey team. “I said, ‘Yeah, I played on his line,’ and the kid goes, ‘You should get me his autograph.’ ”
Johnson scored the Panthers’ only goals in an 8-2 loss to Edina in the Class 2A championship game. Boys’ basketball players JP Macura and Bronson Bruneau were amazed by the passionate crowd at Xcel Energy Center.
One week later, they basked in the glow of a basketball state championship at Target Center. Macura said he received a letter “from some 78-year-old guy” that said “he was proud of me, and I have no idea who he was.”
Bruneau attended church on Sunday where, he said, “about 10 people yelled out, ‘Hey, good game, Bronson.’ Afterward, this older guy asked if he could get a picture with me.”
Kendall Naatjes went to state with the girls’ basketball team as well as the girls’ soccer team in the fall. “You work extra hard to make it to state because you know everyone else is going and we don’t want to be the one left out,” Naatjes said.
Football standouts Gregory Menard and Jamiah Newell attended the girls’ soccer championship game at the Metrodome, and Newell told Menard, “We have to get back here.”
Jessica Meidl, senior guard on the basketball team, cheered the boys’ basketball team to a championship and came away inspired.
“JP [Macura] is so fun to watch. That game made me want to succeed at state and feel that moment that they felt, too,” said Meidl, whose team’s shining moment came with an upset of No. 2 seed Centennial in the state quarterfinals.
This school year marks the second time one school has been represented in the championship brackets by those five sports in the same school year. The other: Lakeville — the “old” one-school Lakeville — in 2003-04.
The Panthers remain strong 10 years later, even after the opening of rival Lakeville South in 2005. Lakeville North’s hot streak runs against the popular belief that adding a second high school to a city will divide teams and diminish success.
“We had 18 kids sign with Division I or II programs in the fall and another six in February,” Reetz said. “That lends itself to successful programs.”
Bruneau will be a preferred walk-on at Duke this fall, looking to win long-snapping duties on the football field. He takes with him the confidence he built as a participant of several Lakeville North state tournament teams.
“I’m done playing Panther sports but I don’t feel sad,” Bruneau said. “I feel like I accomplished something and now I’m ready to do my next thing.”
And about finding more banner space on the gym walls?
“We have to reorganize,” Reetz said, “but it’s a good problem to have.”