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Jason’s Blog: Ms. Carlie?

Posted By: Jason Iacovino

This has been an interesting few weeks for New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva basketball star Carlie Wagner.

The rollercoaster ride started when the University of Minnesota recruit was named the Minnesota Player of the Year by the Associated Press on March 17.

Two days later, Wagner returned to the Twin Cities in defense of NRHEG’s Class AA girls State basketball title and broke her own State Tournament record with 53 points in the Panthers’ 100-68 quarterfinal win over Pequot Lakes at Mariucci Arena.

A few hours after that, on the other side of 4th Street at Williams Arena, Wagner’s future team earned a thrilling come-from-behind win over Wisconsin-Green Bay in the first round of the WNIT tournament.  Wagner’s soon-to-be backcourt tandem partner, junior guard Rachel Banham, delivered the game-winning 3-pointer.

Two days later, it was Carlie’s turn to light up The Barn as she scored 41 points in a semifinal win over Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted that featured a most awkward post game ceremony.  Even as NRHEG knew they had one game remaining before they could hoist that trophy again, the Minnesota State High School League conducted an impromptu and heavily deceiving tribute on live television in which Wagner was presented a “game ball” for becoming the State’s all-time leading scorer.

The problem was everyone knew this was not the case.  Wagner did pass Minneapolis South’s Tayler Hill for second all-time in that win over the Lakers, but the top spot, as Wagner is well aware, belongs to Braham’s Rebekah Dahlman, whose career total of 5,060 will likely never be touched (Carlie ended her career just shy of 4,000 career points).  Still, the MSHSL cited Braham’s failure to document Dahlman’s total–something they obviously will rectify soon enough–when they went ahead with a presentation they knew was fraudulent.

Despite that awkwardness, Wagner handled the moment with class and returned to Williams Arena the next day and scored the first 21 points of the second half for NRHEG in their championship game win over Kenyon-Wanamingo, 71-61, in front of thousands of Panthers fans.  Wagner finished the title game with 36 points and, along with twin sisters Maddie and Marnie Wagner, was named to the All-Tournament team.

But Wagner’s rollercoaster ride was far from over.

The next day, her future team lost in the WNIT to South Dakota State in Brookings, a program that has been steadily on the rise under head coach Aaron Johnston–so much so that the Gophers stopped putting them on its regular season schedule a few years back after losing to the Jackrabbits.

A day later, the news broke that Minnesota coach Pam Borton, who recruited Wagner, had been relieved of her duties with the Gophers.  Assistant Coach Kelly Roysland has been named interim coach, but it’s anyone’s guess who athletics director Norwood Teague will pick to replace Borton permanently–although many candidates, including Johnston, have emerged.

Wagner has gone on record with some in the local media stating that while she was shocked by the news of Borton’s firing, she’s still very much committed to the Gophers (Her good friend and teammate, Jade Schultz, will also be on the squad as a preferred walk on).  This comes as no surprise as it is widely understood that Wagner chose Minnesota because she wants to be close to home and she’s always dreamed of being a Gopher growing up–something those of us who were raised here and love sports can certainly relate to.

Now comes one final chapter in the Wagner basketball rollercoaster of 2014–the announcement of Ms. Minnesota Girls Basketball award on April 26 by the Girls Basketball Coaches Association in Northfield.  Wager is a finalist for this honor, along with Minneapolis Washburn’s Chase Coley, Bloomington Kennedy’s Kenisha Bell, Park Center’s Kayla McMorris, and Fergus Falls’ Breanna Rasmussen.

While the committee hasn’t solicited my opinion on the matter, I’ll offer it anyway: It’s Carlie Wagner and it’s a no-brainer.

Coley was named Minnesota’s Gatorade Player of the Year early in March and is considered to be the other strong candidate to take home the Ms. Minnesota title.  For what it’s worth, Wagner’s Panthers beat Washburn on Jan. 18 in Owatonna and although Coley outscored Carlie in that contest, those of us who were there know that NRHEG had a monster second half lead and Carlie spent almost 9 minutes on the bench with four fouls at the time.  The game was never really close.

Also, although this is a 2013-14 season award, I think it’s somewhat noteworthy that Wagner’s Panthers also beat Coley’s Millers in last year’s State AA semifinal, a game in which Coley was held in check by NRHEG while Wagner scored 48 points.

This is to take nothing away from Coley’s accomplishments this season, as she was the State’s leading rebounder and had nearly 700 points of her own.  She is one of the best centers Minnesota has seen in a long time and Iowa will be lucky to get her next season.  Frankly, she was dazzling in front of that packed crowd in Owatonna back in January.

I just think Carlie’s better.  In fact, I think–and this is just me–that Carlie is destined to become a professional basketball player.  All the signs are there.  She can beat you off the dribble, she can beat you with a catch-and-shoot fade away, she can beat you from long range, she can beat you at the basket, she can pick your pocket and score a layup before you ever know what happened….and she’s one of the best passers you’ll ever see.

She has it all. Wagner and Banham will make the Gopher women a prime ticket next year no matter who ends up coaching them. I personally have never seen a better women’s basketball player with my own eyes who hasn’t already reached the WNBA.  Blooming Prairie Superintendant and former Owatonna girls basketball coach Barry Olson told me the weekend of the girls State tournament that he believes Carlie is better than the Miller twins (Coco and Kelly) from Rochester Mayo.

Now that’s high praise–and he would know.  The Miller twins won the Ms. Basketball award together in 1997 and Olson’s great Owatonna teams could never beat them.  They went on to both play at Georgia and in the WNBA for many years.  Since then, there have been a handful of outstate winners of the award, including Elgin-Milville’s Katie Ohm in 2005 (Another former Gopher who Wagner passed in scoring earlier this season).

If Wagner takes home the award later this month, she would be the third straight outstate player to do so (Along with Braham’s Dahlman in 2013 and Watertown-Mayer’s Marissa Janning in 2012).  She would be the only one of that trio, however, to be a Gophers-commit.

So to summarize: Carlie Wagner is good–I mean really good–but she’s also humble, nice, and loyal to her school and to her state.

That sounds like Ms. Basketball to me.

Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays on KRFO-AM 1390 at 3:50 p.m. Email him at jjiacovino@stthomas.edu. Follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.

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