Last year the Cambridge-Isanti girls basketball team was a veteran squad that included four experienced senior starters. That team leaned on its experience to claim a come-from-behind win in the Class 4A Section 7 championship game.
The team that it beat that day, Forest Lake, was a young squad that featured eight juniors and a sophomore who had earned significant varsity minutes for the first time in their careers.
So this year, when the two teams met for the third season in a row in the section title game, it was Forest Lake that featured the experienced, veteran squad.
And that experience was a crucial component in the Bluejackets’ 58-50 loss in the Section 7 title game played at Forest Lake on Thursday, March 25.
“Forest Lake is a senior-dominated team this year, and I’m sure they grew from that experience [last year],” C-I coach Jody Ledahl said. “I think our underclassmen will grow and learn from this result.”
It was second-seeded Cambridge-Isanti that threw the first punch in the championship contest, jumping to an early 7-2 advantage. But the Rangers, the top seed in the section, chipped away at the lead and eventually tied the contest at 16-16, setting up a back-and-forth tussle throughout the rest of the half before Forest Lake carried a 21-18 lead into the locker room.
The Bluejackets made several runs in the second half, but the veteran Rangers always seemed to make the key play, whether it was intercepting a pass or making a big basket, to hold C-I at arm’s length.
“Coach [Jennifer] Wagner does a good job of making sure they get out and defend,” Ledahl said of Forest Lake. “They get out in the passing lanes, and they’re a very physical team.”
Wagner knew it would take a full 38-minute effort for her team to win.
“Cambridge-Isanti is well-coached and disciplined,” she said. “They have great game plans, and they execute them well. And they come to play. We knew it would be a tough game.”
Forest Lake used a box-and-one to try and stop Bluejackets junior Mikayla Aumer, but it was not particularly successful. She finished with a game-high 28 points, a number of which she scored in the second half.
“I tried to keep being aggressive,” Aumer said. “It was more of a mental thing than physical. We knew it would take a lot of fight and heart to win.”
Aumer made a 3-pointer early in the second half that gave her 1,000 points for her Cambridge-Isanti career. But she was the only Cambridge-Isanti player to finish in double figures in a contest Ledahl said would be a “good learning experience” for his team.
“Our skill level is there, and we’ll continue to build that,” he said. “But we need to continue to work on that physicality, and that mental focus to scratch and claw every possession.”
Aumer scores 40 in section semi win
Cambridge-Isanti advanced to Thursday’s title contest by thrashing Coon Rapids 70-43 in a home semifinal contest on Tuesday, March 23. Aumer was the star of that victory, nearly matching the Cardinals’ point total by scoring 40 points.
“I expected them to come in with a box-and-one and chase her all over, and they didn’t,” Ledahl said. “Mikayla took advantage of that: She shot the ball well, and shot with confidence. And she made such good decisions with the ball, the way she managed the game led to the win.”
Aumer made six 3-pointers against the Cardinals, but she also had a solid all-around game and added four assists and three rebounds.
“I got in a rhythm early,” Aumer said. “We got off to a good start, the energy was high, and we were really focused. That was a fun game.”
The Bluejackets roared out of the gates, scoring the game’s first 8 points and holding that lead throughout the first half, which ended with C-I in front by a 34-28 margin.
The Cardinals cut the deficit to 4 points early in the second half before a decisive 21-2 run midway through the period gave the Bluejackets a 60-37 lead with 7:33 on the clock.
Cambridge-Isanti was never headed in punching its ticket to the section title game for a third year in a row behind Aumer and sophomore Maraya Wiltrout, who finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.
While the Bluejackets saw their dream of returning to the state tournament dashed by Thursday’s loss, knowing that the varsity roster includes a number of underclassmen – compared to the eight seniors on the Forest Lake varsity – points to a positive future for Cambridge-Isanti.
“I was the only varsity player coming back this season, so we didn’t have super-high expectations,” Aumer said. “Getting to the section final was awesome, and it would have been even greater had we made it to state. Next year, we have to have the mindset that we can get back to state, and we have to put in the work to make it happen.”