NEW RICHLAND-HARTLAND-ELLENDALE-GENEVA AREA

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I admit it. I grew up a spoiled high school basketball fan. Little did I know this would affect me greatly as I headed up my caraeer path to adulthood.

It was around 1970 when I first attended a game at Waseca's old Central High School, and I remember seeing the Bluejays play postseason games in Northfield and watching them on TV in the state tournament. I saw Gene Glynn lead them to consecutive state tourney appearance and - despite being all of 5 feet, 9 inches - become Minnesota's first Mr. Basketball.

It made everyone in and around Waseca proud, myself included, but I didn't exactly sit around and ponder how good Gene Glynn was — I just knew Geno was one heck of a high school player, the best I'd ever seen — and, as it would turn out, the best I ever would see for decades. Therein lies the issue.

As sports editor at Waseca, I covered some great players — most notably Monte Dufault — and for three years in the Twin Cities northern suburbs I covered some of the best teams and players in the state, including a girl from Fridley named Nicole Johnson who led her team to state and earned a scholarship to Duke. During 15-plus years at Albert Lea, there were many more great players, several 1,000-point scorers and some Division I recruits, but nobody I saw could hold a candle to Geno. Albert Lea's Ben Woodside came close, going on to a great college career at North Dakota State and later playing in Europe, but on the high school level, in my eyes there was never a high school player who could dominate a game like Gene Glynn.

Until now. Carlie Wagner has set a new standard.

Some people have compared Carlie to the Miller twins, Kelly and Coco, from Rochester Mayo, who played in college at Georgia and later in the WNBA. Albert Lea hosted the twins five times while I was at Albert Lea, and I can honestly say this: no, Carlie doesn't compare to the Miller twins. She's a lot better.

Like Waseca in the 1970s, the communities of New Richland, Hartland, Ellendale and Geneva are swelling with pride these days, celebrating the end of a remarkable run that saw Carlie and the Panther girls' basketball team finish third in the state tournament and, this year, win a second straight state championship. Along the way Carlie broke and rebroke several state tournament records, earned state and national recognition, but most importantly remained the same sweet girl we've been fortunate to know since before she was THE Carlie Wagner.

It was fun and interesting to watch Carlie in the state tournament this year. She still wore her game face, but it wasn't the mean-look game face we saw last year; it was more a look of confidence, and her play reflected it. She seemed to be on cruise control much of the time, dictating the pace of the game against the best the state had to offer, seemingly scoring at will or finding an open teammate when the Panthers needed it most.

Next up for our "Golden Girl" is the high school all-star games and announcement of Miss Basketball, which, according to Panthers coach John Schultz, will go to Carlie unless the old Twin Cities favoritism prevails. I like the Golden Girl's chances.

Then it's on to the Minnesota Gophers and their new head coach, but after that, who knows? My crystal ball foresees more championships and most assuredly more dominating play. The WNBA shows up clearly. Maybe there's an Olympic team or two there too.

We can all be thankful to say we knew her way back when.

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