Video: Eden Prairie highlights
Watch the Eagles upset then the nation's No. 9 team Minnehaha Academy.
It's' hard to imagine a high school sports team in America that was stung deeper by the coronavirus lockdown than the boys basketball squad at Eden Prairie (Minn.)
The Eagles culminated a historic four-year run with a beautifully symmetric and dominating season unlike any in its 107-year public-school history.
Eden Prairie won all of its 28 games, running past the best in the state, including nationally ranked Minnehaha Academy — touted as perhaps the best team in state history — led by first-team All-American Jalen Suggs, the state Player of the Year.
The Eagles, meanwhile, had no big recruits, but instead relied on balance, experience, smarts and the ultimate in team chemistry.
By the end of the regular season, four seniors — 6-foot-6 forward Connor Christensen
, 6-5 guard John Henry
, 6-5 forward Austin Andrews
and 6-1 point guard Drake Dobbs
(a fifth-year starter) — all broke the magical 1,000-point career scoring mark.
All averaged in double figures — Dobbs (18.8 per game), Henry (16.5), Andrews (16.2) and Christensen (12.7) — and all had college scholarships secured to smaller institutions: Liberty University, Sioux Falls, Minnesota-Duluth and Dartmouth, respectively.
They ran past the state's No. 2 team and 13th nationally Minnehaha Academy (78-64), No. 3 Hopkins (82-68 and 81-75), No. 5 Eastview (69-61) and No. 7 Shakopee (75-59). They averaged 81.7 points per game, second in the state and No. 17 in the country.
A team that had never sniffed at the national rankings, after its first state crown in school history, had peaked all the way to No. 9 in the country by MaxPreps.
And coach David Flom said the 28-0 record, the national billing and landmark wins wasn't even what he'll remember most about these Eagles.
"They came to work every day," Flom said. "They were a pure dream to coach. They are all just fantastic people. They carry a team GPA of 3.70. Any coach will tell you that's all the good stuff. I just feel so lucky to be a part of it all."
So, the only appropriate way to tie a bow to the perfect season was with the first state title, all but assured with Shakopee in its way for the sectional title. A win there, would have put the Eagles in the 4A state quarterfinals.
But the section finals were postponed to March 13 due to COVID-19. Then that Friday, they were called off all together.
The Eagles' dream season had been stomped short, four wins from their ultimate and seemingly destined dream perch.
Flom, an elementary school teacher, took to Facebook shortly after the cancellation: "Fifth-graders don't know how to handle it when their teacher is sobbing behind his desk," he wrote. "This team is a coach's dream, 28-0, ranked No. 9 in the country, but can't claim state champs is heartbreaking. With that being said, I love these boys, their parents, our coaches and the fact that my family gets to be part of something so special."
Instead of wallowing, Flom game-planned beautifully. He organized a net-cutting ceremony in the team's gym that Friday night. He let no time linger. All the parents and select media were allowed. One-by-one each player and coach snipped away the net from the orange rings, a ceremony befitting of all champions at every level.
It was as close to a state title-feel and closure as these Eagles would possibly get. Flom took them as far as he could go. It was a beautiful and brilliant touch.
Predictably the mood was somber during the ceremony. But there were smiles and hugs and a lot of pride. Quotes and reactions from that ceremony was from tape supplied by KSTP 5
From Flom: "Frankly, we just wanted to get the players together. We love each other. It's sad that it ended. So much of it is just spending time together. Everything happened so abruptly we didn't have any closure. Instead of us just getting together in a classroom, we decided to invite our family and friends here."
Christensen thanked the Eden Prairie community for all the support, but couldn't come up with an answer with how he'll look back at it all.
"I don't know when or how I'm going to remember it, but I just know it will be great memory," he said. "Playing in front of the crowds we did, I might never get that again. I struggle to put it into words right now because of the great experience we all have had."
Andrews said: "Our record speaks for itself. We'll be brothers for life. We've made relationships that will last for a lifetime. It's been fun, but sad too that it had to end this way.
"Even though it got caught a little short, we'll still have these memories forever. It's been amazing. It didn't end the way we wanted, but we can't control that. Everything that was put in front of us, we conquered. That's all we can do."
Henry said he understood and accepted the decision to cancel was that " people are looking out for us. … I think in a few years, we'll look back and think nothing but happiness. It won't be as much of a sad feeling as it is right now."
He said the sadness would surely soon be erased by the memory of "joy. Coming in with my friends and doing what I love is something you can't take away."
Dobbs said the Minnehaha victory felt much like a championship game.
"We had a lot of those games," he said. "Hopkins, Park Center, Minnehaha, Cretin. It was fun to play all those teams with all that talent. It's disappointing we don't get to play in the state tournament but I'm just grateful for the opportunity of the whole year."
Flom had the last word. He said the cancellation was just another lesson that sports can teach.
"Our mindset was going 1-0 every time out," he said. "But this is a reminder that you just never know. There are no regrets. We didn't get to decide when it ended. We did everything we could do when we could control what we could control. And we did.
"What a historic season for these guys. Not just to be No. 1 in the state, but No. 9 in the country and to do it against the best competition that the state had to offer. They did it with a lot of class and pride. There's a lot to be proud of."