St. Paul Johnson's Justus Murphy eyed the net as Hill-Murray's Chris Moore defended (ELIZABETH FLORES/STAR TRIBUNE)
The nightmares, St. Paul Johnson guard Jalen Mobley joked, have stopped.
One year after a section final upset loss, Mobley and the Governors are back in the Class 3A state tournament. They practiced earlier this week at the Salvation Army gym on West 7th in the heart of St. Paul, on a longer floor to better prepare them for Wednesday’s quarterfinal game at Williams Arena and, hopefully, the ensuing two games at the Target Center.
Not that St. Paul Johnson is looking too far ahead. Doing so a year ago resulted in a crushing section final loss to a St. Paul Central team that the Governors beat twice during the season.
Mobley and his fellow seniors used the disappointment as fuel. Once uncertain about taking leadership roles, the seniors committed themselves to shaping the season’s outcome. The No. 2 seed Governors (25-3) open state tournament play at 2 p.m. Wednesday against Hermantown (24-5).
The Hawks are newcomers. The Governors have become a fixture, winning the Class 3A title in 2010 while reaching nine tournaments in 12 seasons under coach Vern Simmons. Such continuity was once synonymous with the school’s hockey program, which made 17 tournament runs from 1951-71 and won three of its four championships in that span.
Leadership, a quality transcending time and sport, bolstered both programs.
“We had some struggles with leadership at the start, figuring out who wanted to be leaders and who would step up,” senior center Justus Murphy said. “But we came together.”
The Governors’ three losses taught tough lessons. A 100-56 loss at Eden Prairie humbled players. “That woke us up a little bit and told us we’re not as good as we think we are,” junior guard Andre Smith said.
Two weeks later the Governors lost by six to Eastview. After a late January loss at home to Cretin-Derham Hall, players regrouped and vowed to not lose again. A fast yet fundamentally sound playing style produced the 12-0 current surge.
“The seniors have become more like generals on the court, talking to the younger guys and helping them play their roles,” senior forward Eric Elliott said.
A memorable Twin Cities championship game closed the regular season as St. Paul Johnson outlasted Minneapolis North for a 123-119 victory in double overtime. The 242 combined points set a record for the highest-scoring game in state history. Mobley scored a school-record 52 points.
A year ago, Mobley watched from his seat at the Target Center as DeLaSalle won its third consecutive Class 3A state title. My team should be here, he thought.
“I’m just excited to be back,” Mobley said. “It’s the greatest feeling in my high school career right now.”
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574