Jake Perry

Jake Perry of Hopkins (second from left) celebrates with teammates after one of his five home runs in the 2021 State Legion Baseball Tournament.

Sarah Shahbaz

Minnetonka's Prep Athlete of the Year, Sarah Shahbaz, won the state singles title in tennis.

Jackson Blake

Eden Prairie's Prep Athlete of the Year, hockey player Jackson Blake, scored the winning goal in the state title game as the Eagles edged Lakeville South 2-1.

As we take one last look at 2021, many readers have called regarding the Athletes of the Year lists published in the Sun Sailor editions last week.

One reader suggested that in addition to an Athletes of the Year piece, we should choose the greatest moments in sports for the calendar year, and the athletes who provided the unforgettable memories.

So, this week, we introduce the Sun Sailor Prep Players of the Year for 2021. Our selections are limited to one from each of the large high schools in our coverage area - Hopkins, Eden Prairie and Minnetonka. Following are their stories of the success.

Jackson Blake

Eden Prairie Hockey

Early in the 2020-20 boys hockey season, Eden Prairie was not scoring many goals.

But then Jackson Blake, who had planned to spend his junior season with the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League, got the itch to play high school hockey and joined the Eagle varsity.

As they say, the rest is history. Blake led the Eagles to the state Class AA championship, giving head coach Lee Smith his third title.

Blake scored the winning goal as the Eagles beat previously unbeaten Lakeville South 2-1 in the state finals at Xcel Energy Center. The victory gave Eden Prairie a season record of 21-1-2.

Reflecting on the game-winning goal, coach Smith said, “Once Jackson had the puck on his stick, I knew he would make the play. His hockey IQ is off the charts.”

The winning shot came on a rebound. Blake took the puck in stride about 25 feet from the net and pulled the trigger, sending the puck past Lakeville South goalie Cody Ticen.

After the awards ceremony for both teams, Ticen lingered on the ice. Nobody told him he had to leave. There are times when an athlete has to be alone.

Meanwhile, Blake headed for the postgame press conference. He said all the right things, praising his team’s effort as well as Lakeville South’s and sharing how happy he was for coach Smith, who had last won the title in 2011.

“I am glad I came back [from Chicago],” Blake said. “Nothing beats winning the state title with guys who grow up playing together.”

Blake is back with the Chicago Steel in the Junior ranks as one of the leading scorers in the USHL.

Sarah Shahbaz

Minnetonka Tennis

After leading Minnetonka High’s girls tennis team to the State Class AA Tournament team title in 2021, junior captain Sarah Shahbaz had one more bit of business at the University of Minnesota’s Baseline Tennis Center.

Shahbaz won four straight matches in the singles draw to secure her second gold medal of the tournament. “Sarah has the best hands and the best shot selection I have seen from a high school tennis player,” Minnetonka head coach Brent Lundell said.

Not tested until the championship match, No. 2 seed Shahbaz fell behind the No. 1 seed from Osseo, Zoe Adkins, in the final match of the season.

Adkins took a 5-1 lead in the first set. Shahbaz quickly won the next four games to make the score 5-5. Adkins won the next game to take a 6-5 lead, but Shahbaz closed her out with wins in the final two games of the set.

Reflecting on the first-set comeback, Shahbaz said, “I knew I had to stay in the moment and take one point at a time. I love playing against Zoe because she brings something different every time. The entire time we were playing - even when I was down 5-1 - I told myself, ‘This is winnable.’”

And winnable it was. Shahbaz stayed red-hot in the second set and won it 6-0.

After taking her match, she moved over to watch Minnetonka teammates Annika and Karina Elvestrom win the state Class AA doubles title. The Elvestrom sisters lost the first set 6-2 to their opponents from Rochester Century before taking the second and third sets 6-3, 6-3.

It was a perfect ending to a perfect season for the Minnetonka girls, who dedicated their team, singles and doubles victories to their former coach, Dave Stearns, who died from natural causes in December of 2020 at the age of 72.

Jake Perry

Hopkins Baseball

Even as a Little Leaguer in the Mighty Mite Baseball program at the Glen Lake ball fields, left-handed hitter Jake Perry stood out among the all-stars.

At Hopkins High, he was a freshman starter at first base, and then in the summer, he was the 15-year-old starting shortstop for the Hopkins Legion team.

As he went through high school, Perry played multiple positions - catcher in his sophomore year, mainly third base as a junior and senior. He led the Royals to the State Class 4A Tournament in his sophomore and senior seasons. The best Hopkins team may have been the one that would have taken the field in 2020, but that season was wiped out by COVID-19. Perry was part of an all-star crew that year with pitchers Joey Hurth and Miles Halligan and fleet center fielder Parker Johnson.

Perry had a great year with the high school team in 2021, making first-team All-State, hitting .416, leading the Royals in hits and RBIs and playing flawless defense at third. But it was in the summer that Perry received his highest honor. He hit five home runs to lead Hopkins to second place in the State American Legion Tournament at St. Cloud’s Joe Faber and Dick Putz Fields. It wasn’t just that he hit the ball over the fence - he hit it way over the fence! Three of the five homers traveled 390 feet or more, and when the time came to name the Fred Wannamaker Award winner as tournament MVP, essentially no vote was necessary. A unanimous voice vote of directors gave it to Perry.

Perry then led Hopkins to second place in the Central Plains Regional. Asked about Perry’s contribution to the Legion team’s success, coach Tyler Brodersen said, “Jake is a gifted player and a great leader. It was such a pleasure to coach him this summer.”

“Jake is an outstanding hitter - for average and for power,” Hopkins High baseball coach Jason Mihalakis said. “You can put him anywhere in the field or behind the plate, and he will play outstanding defense.”

The Hopkins slugger is on the varsity baseball team at the University of Minnesota.

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