MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Carlie Wagner didn’t want to take her jersey off for the last time, but she conceded. She tried to hold back the tears, but they flowed.
New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Gevena’s senior guard finished her record-setting career Saturday with an undefeated season and a second straight Class 2A championship by scoring 36 points to help lift the top-ranked Panthers over No. 2 Kenyon-Wanamingo 71-61 at Williams Arena.
After the game, Wagner wept for the finality of the moment. Her time playing for the Panthers (31-0) with freshmen twin sisters Maddie and Marnie Wagner, along best friend and fellow senior Jade Schultz, was over.
“You think it’d be tears of joy right now, which it is, but it’s a combination of sadness of being done right now,” Wagner said. “It’s indescribable. It’s hard to believe it’s all over. It hits you hard when you know it’s your last game. It’s really hard.”
Wagner, the state’s all-time leading scorer, ended her career with 3,957 points, with 371 of those coming in state tournaments, another state record. After shooting 3-for-14 in the first half of Saturday’s championship game, Wagner came out in the second half against the Knights and rattled off 21 consecutive points to put the Panthers up 56-32 with over 11 minutes to play.
The Knights (31-2) failed to avenge their only regular season loss, a 67-60 defeat to the Panthers on Jan. 9, but they went on a 17-5 run to cut the Panthers’ lead to 61-49 with about five minutes left. The Panthers struggled at the free-throw line, shooting 17-for-31, which helped keep the Knights within reach until time ran out.
Schultz and Wagner will play together next year at the University of Minnesota. Schultz, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee and missed out on last year’s state championship, will walk on.
But the two were able to stand together on the same raised floor they’ll play on in college to hoist the high school state championship trophy one last time.
“It’s as special as it’s going to get,” Panthers coach John Schultz, Jade’s father, said. “I think 20, 30 years from now they’ll be coming back to reunions and they’ll be legendary in our area. To win one state tourney is one thing, but back to back is unheard of.”
When asked about what all of her records and potential legacy meant, Wagner said that wasn’t on her mind. Her teammates were all she could think about.
“I honestly haven’t thought about it. This game and everything, all the emotion hitting me, I haven’t given it much thought I guess,” Wagner said. “Knowing I’m never going to get to play with these girls again. It’s not going to be the same crowd. I’m excited to get to the ‘U’ and stuff, but it’s the stuff you’re going to miss, mostly.”
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