NEW RICHLAND — For about 30 minutes following Friday’s Section 2AA championship game, Carlie Wagner stayed on the court, signing autographs and taking pictures with fans, some she knew and others she didn’t.
In every case, she cracked a wide smile, certainly a contrast from the snarls of her game face, and talked with the fans, especially taking time with the youngsters who were eager to meet the New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva senior.
“The girls have learned to handle it,” NRHEG coach John Schultz said. “They’re humble, even a little embarrassed sometimes by the attention. But they’ve gotten used to it. Especially Carlie. She’s the first to give credit to her teammates.”
Two years ago, NRHEG was able to show up at the Class AA tournament without much notice. This time, the Panthers and Wagner are the top draw, starting at 2 p.m. today against Pequot Lakes (23-6) in a quarterfinal game at Mariucci Arena. The top-seeded Panthers (28-0) are the defending champions and riding a 58-game winning streak.
“Ever since third grade, we thought this was going to be a special group,” Schultz said. “Then we got to sixth, seventh, eighth grade, and they were winning all the tournaments. This group has really gotten everything they could out of this opportunity.”
Wagner, who has signed with the University of Minnesota, has scored 3,827 points in her career and needs 61 points to move into second place in state history. If she can match last season’s state tournament, in which she set six records, including 50 points in a game and 129 points in the tournament, she’ll do that with ease.
Wagner, who has 572 steals and 658 assists in her career, is a favorite to earn the Ms. Basketball award, averaging 36.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 4.4 steals this season.
Wagner isn’t the only one of the Panthers who will be playing for Minnesota next season. Senior Jade Schultz, who has 1,511 points and 1,009 rebounds in her career, is also joining the Gophers.