By Adam J.S. Holt, Contributor
Plenty of teams with recent title game experience return to the 2017 Class C State Tournament, which starts this weekend in Green Isle, Hamburg and Norwood.
The Raymond Rockets won the title last year and return to field this summer. The 2016 runner up, the Sobieski Skis, are back too, along with a host of tournament regulars, including 2015’s finalists in Plato and Green Isle.
Half of the 48-team field was in the bracket last year as well, and another nine teams returned to state after a one-year absence. For 14 teams, this marks at least the third straight year of qualifying for state.
Three of the 2016 semifinalists are back, with Hutchinson (28-8) receiving a bye to the second weekend of play. The other two play on the opening weekend — Raymond plays Mora (21-9) at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Green Isle, while Sobieski (21-4) plays Springfield at 5 p.m. Friday in Norwood.
The path to the quarterfinals could be tough for Raymond, should it make it past its first-round game. The Rockets would have to beat a Buckman team in the next round that went 18-3, and the next matchup could see them face either Midway, which went 19-5, or potentially Faribault (25-11), a team that played in the final in 2014 with many of the same players on the current roster.
Should Sobieski beat Springfield (23-9) in the first round, the Skis would face Region 7C champion Plato, which seeks a second title in three years.
Green Isle, one of the host teams, played Plato in the 2015 championship game, and lost 14-6 to take second. Green Isle plays Regal in the first round at noon Sunday in Green Isle, and would face the Lamberton Long Sox (29-5) in the second round.
Fort Ripley carries a 23-2 record into state and plays at 1 p.m. Saturday against Blue Earth in Norwood. Jordan (24-9) has a bye to the second weekend and played itself to the quarterfinals in 2015. The Brewers await the winner of Maple Lake and St. Joseph — Maple Lake was a quarterfinalist a year ago. Sartell (27-4) also has a bye, and will play the winner between St. Martin and Howard Lake — Howard Lake was in the semifinals in 2015.
The 16 teams to earn byes, along with their region are: Buckman (8C), Midway (14C), Lake Henry (15C), Fairmont (13C), Plato (7C), Chokio (9C), Hampton (4C), Jordan (6C), Hutchinson (12C), Lamberton (2C), Kimball (11C), Fergus Falls (16C), Union Hill (3C), Dodge County (5C), Sartell (1C) and Bemidji (10C).
Friday’s matchups are: 5 p.m., Springfield vs. Sobieski, at Norwood; 5 p.m., Maple Lake vs. St. Joesph, at Hamburg; 7:30 p.m., New York Mills vs. Carver, at Hamburg; 7:30 p.m., Watkins vs. New Prague, at Norwood.
Saturday’s games are: 1 p.m., Faribault vs. Gibbon, at Green Isle; 1 p.m., Fort Ripley vs. Blue Earth, at Norwood; 4 p.m., Cannon Falls vs. Hadley, 4 at Norwood; 4 p.m., St. Martin vs. Howard Lake, at Green Isle; 7 p.m., Rochester vs. Young America at Norwood; 7 p.m., Crookston vs. Buffalo, at Green Isle.
Sunday’s games are: 12 p.m., Dumont vs. New Market, at Hamburg; 2:30 p.m., Mora vs. Raymond, at Green Isle; 2:30 p.m., Pelican Rapids vs. Elrosa, at Hamburg; 5 p.m., St. Peter vs. Avon, at Green Isle; 5 p.m., Milroy vs. Henderson, at Hamburg.