MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – We’re sprinting towards  the end of February, but March Madness is already in full effect on the Minnesota high school sports scene.

State champions were crowned last week in girls hockey (Thief River Falls and Hill-Murray) and gymnastics (Roseville and Detroit Lakes). This week, the state’s best wrestlers take center stage at Xcel Energy Center for the team tournament on Thursday and the individual tournament on Friday and Saturday in an action-packed weekend.

Next week, the Boys State Hockey Tournament takes over St. Paul and playoff brackets take shape in boys and girls basketball. Our top match-ups this week feature two Friday hockey games with state tournament bids at stake, a top-five match-up  in girls basketball and a couple of interesting games in the boys basketball playoffs.

Friday Boys Hockey: Hill-Murray (20-7) vs. Stillwater (19-8)
(Section 4AA Championship)

It’s an expectation for Hill-Murray to be in the state hockey tournament virtually every year. The Pioneers face a familiar opponent Friday night with a trip to state on the line. That same opponent, Stillwater, denied them a state tournament bid last year. Hill-Murray enters the game having won six of its past seven games and beat North St. Paul and Mounds View to get to the section title game. The Pioneers are led by Zach Mills’ 40 points in the regular season, including 19 goals.

Stillwater has won five of its last six games and won a pair of games in overtime to get to the section title game. Wednesday, the Ponies knocked off White Bear Lake in double overtime to advance. They are led by Jackson Cates, who had 41 points in the regular season, including a team-best 23 goals.

The two teams did not meet in the regular season. It should be a great game with plenty of intensity, and the winner heads to St. Paul next week.

Friday Boys Hockey: Mahtomedi (23-2-2) vs. St. Paul Academy (22-4)
(Section 4A Championship)

Mahtomedi suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss to Totino-Grace in the Section 4A title game last year. The Zephyrs, ranked No. 2 in Class A, face St. Paul Academy Friday night with a trip to next week’s state tournament on the line. Mahtomedi has won 12 games and is unbeaten in its last 13 heading into the contest. The Zephyrs are led by Jack Becker’s 48 points in the regular season, including a team-best 22 goals. St. Paul Academy is ranked No. 11 in Class A and has won seven of its past eight heading into the contest. The Spartans have scored 13 goals in two playoff games already, and they’re led by Matt Dahlseide’s 53 points in the regular season. Justin Jallen had a team-best 20 goals.

Friday Girls Basketball: Hopkins (23-1) at Minnetonka (21-4)

It’ll be a great match-up between two top-five teams Friday night in the west Twin Cities metro as No. 4-ranked Minnetonka hosts No. 1-ranked Hopkins. When the two teams met earlier this season, the Royals earned a 70-55 win over the Skippers. Hopkins has sealed a league title, but there’s still plenty at stake when these two rivals meet. Minnetonka has won six of its past seven and is led by Courtney Frederickson’s 16 points per game. Hopkins has won 19 straight games and is led by Nia Hollie’s 15.5 points per game.

Saturday Boys Basketball: Elk River (13-14) at St. Michael-Albertville (22-5)
(Section 8AAAA Playoffs)

St. Michael-Albertville won the Mississippi 8 Conference title with a 12-1 mark, and the Knights are one win away from playing for a trip to the Class 4A State Tournament. They face Elk River Saturday afternoon at St. Cloud State University, with the winner advancing to play either Moorhead or Rogers for a state tournament bid. The Knights lost their last two regular season games, but rebounded with a 37-point win over Bemijdi in the playoff quarterfinals. They’re led by Jackson Greenwaldt’s 17.8 points per game and Trevor Rothstein’s 15.4 points per contest. Elk River lost four straight to end the regular season, but beat Buffalo to advance to the section semifinals. The Elks are led by Matt Keller’s 15 points per game.

Saturday Boys Basketball: Holy Family Catholic (14-13) at Waconia (14-13)
 (Section 6AAA Playoffs)

It should be a great match-up Saturday night between two evenly-matched teams as Waconia hosts Holy Family Catholic in the Section 6AAA Playoffs. Both teams are 14-13 on the season, and the winner advances to face either Minneapolis Washburn or Benilde-St. Margaret’s next week for a state tournament bid. The squads split during the regular season, with the Wildcats winning at home 71-63 and the Fire winning their home game 69-66. Holy Family, which has won six of its past seven, is led by Justin Dahl’s 18.6 points and 16.9 rebounds per game. Waconia, which dominated Richfield 72-49 to advance in the playoffs, is led by Joey Kortuem’s 12 points per game.

Tune into WCCO-TV’s High School Sports Rally at about 10:20 p.m. Friday as Mike Max, Frank Vascellaro and David McCoy will have all the action covered.

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