JACKSON -- Alex Hein found out about it on Friday morning, at about 10:30, on Twitter. He was officially informed shortly after.
“I immediately told the boys. And my heart sank,” he said.
Hein, the head coach of the Jackson County Central high school boys basketball team, has a state tournament team that will not participate in a state tournament this year. The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) announced Friday that it has canceled all of the winter state championships in response to the growing coronavirus pandemic -- meaning that the girls state tournament, which began on Wednesday, has been halted before a champion can be named, and that the boys state tournament won’t begin at all.
Later Friday, the MSHSL made an announcement that affects spring sports, as well. Participation in spring activities is limited to practice and tryouts only until April 6. Scrimmages, competitions and training sessions of every kind with other member school programs are not allowed.
The JCC Huskies are in the same empty basketball boat as another southwest Minnesota boys basketball squad, the Southwest Minnesota Christian Eagles. Thursday night in Marshall, just three hours before JCC beat Minnewaska Area for the Section 3AA title, the Eagles beat Central Christian for the Section 3A championship.
“We’re all pretty heartbroken,” said Hein Friday afternoon. “We all understand why. But we would have loved to be in the state tournament and participate in that experience.”
In Edgerton, the Eagles can only wonder at what might have been. They’re grounded with a perfect 29-0 record, and in the final state poll, they were ranked No. 4 in Class A.
Southwest possesses three senior players who have surpassed the career 1,000-point barrier. Avery Pater and Jacob Van Dam are two, and the third -- Kade Fey -- reached the milestone Thursday night in the team's section championship victory over Central. The Eagles win mostly with defense, however, and Van Dam was not far off when he said after Thursday’s victory, “Nobody can keep up with us for two halves.”
Until now, no one has. But we’ll never know what other state tournament teams might be able to do against them.
On every qualifying team denied their state tournament opportunity, there are as many individual stories as there are players -- and parents, cheerleaders and fans. Hein said that he spoke with senior Rudy Voss, who was a freshman the last time JCC played in the state tournament, and Voss said he looked forward to the complete experience -- the pep fest, the send-off from the community, and just the chance to share it with his teammates. But that’s all gone.
“Really an abrupt ending, especially after our game last night,” Hein said.
There was a huge crowd, of course, at Southwest Minnesota State University for the JCC/Minnewaska Area game. Hein said he’s at least happy that his Huskies got to win their last game of the 2019-20 season. They’ll still always remember the medals that they were given, and the section trophy.
And who’s to say they wouldn’t have won a state title?
“A couple of our guys said they were claiming the state championship,” Hein said.
Is the season really over? Well, technically, it is. But for the Huskies, it’s not really over until they say it’s over.
“Even though they’re not having any more practice, they’re all talking about getting together,” said the coach. “And we’ll get together again as a whole team and have some kind of closure.”