This story is by the staff of the Bemidji Pioneer newspaper.
The persistence of the Leech Lake eighth grade girls basketball team paid off Saturday, June 30, in the Pacesetter Great Five-State Championship title game at Target Center in Minneapolis.
In a rematch with Lake City — the team that beat Leech Lake in the state finals earlier in the month — the Lakers trailed the Tigers until the final second.
Kionna Johnson gave Leech Lake a 27-25 lead with 0.8 left on the clock. Her teammates had moved the ball up the court in the last six seconds and fed her a pass under the hoop. The Laker center whirled and banked it cleanly through the cords.
Taryn Frazer, Leech Lake's floor leader, tied the score with a diving layup with about 25 seconds left. Before that, the Lakers had trailed by as many as eight points. Frazer, a guard, and Johnson, a center, accounted for much of the team's scoring.
In the state finals, Leech Lake trailed Lake City by double digits before pulling within four points, but fell back at the end in the 49-36 loss. In the rematch, the Lakers held on through the end.
Leech Lake players — who will play for Cass Lake-Bena High School — are Johnson, Frazer, Amira LaDuke, Krisalyn Seelye, Mya Reyes, Jessica Brunelle, Antavia Bowstring and Jenni Wind. The team's coaches are Tate Frazier, Kristin Brown and Michael Reyes.
Leech Lake had a difficult road to earn the five-state crown. The Lakers defeated three teams that had won their respective state tournaments: Dakota Valley (S.D.) 27-23, Linton (N.D.) 32-22 and Lake City.
Lake City reached the finals by defeating Northern Cass (N.D. runner-up) 42-31 and Mountain Iron-Buhl (Minn. third place) 31-21.
The Pacesetter Great Five-State Championships features the top teams from Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa in an eight-team format. The tournament is sponsored by the Minnesota Lynx and Minnesota Timberwolves.