With the pressure on, Hayfield delivers another state championship

Hayfield was ranked No. 1 in the state in Class AA all season, and the Vikings delivered a state title by nipping Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 51-49 in the championship game.

Hayfield State Basketball
Hayfield head coach Chris Pack, right, hugs his son, Ethan, after the Vikings beat Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 51-49 in the Class A state boys basketball championship game Saturday, March 26, 2022 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. It was the second straight season that Hayfield won a state title in boys basketball.
Andrew Link / Post Bulletin
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MINNEAPOLIS — The Hayfield boys basketball team was under a microscope all season long.

Pressure? Sure, but the Vikings delivered for the second straight season as they defended their Class A state championship by defeating Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 51-49 at Williams Arena on Saturday.

A year ago, the Vikings were the No. 3 seed in the Section 1A tournament. But they played very well in the postseason, battled through a tough section and then won a state title. This season, the Vikings didn't have the luxury of sneaking up on anyone.

No. 1 seed Hayfield hits its free throws down the stretch to nip No. 2 Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 51-49 in the Class A boys basketball state title game on Saturday.

“It’s kind of hard to compare them,” Vikings junior guard Isaac Matti said. “It’s an exciting and unreal feeling for both of them. This year, it was a little bit of an expectation. But just to get here, this is what we’ve been working for all year. Last year was the first time for a lot of us; this year it was an expectation.”

Hayfield lost its top player from a year ago (Ethan Slaathaug), but it had four returning starters and was ranked No. 1 in Class A from the start of the season.


“The target’s been on our back all year, and we’ve handled the pressure very well,” Hayfield coach Chris Pack said. “As far as what it means for Hayfield — you saw the crowd we had there — it’s just amazing. The support we get, it means a lot.”

The players had to deal with that internal pressure, plus they also knew they would be facing teams that were looking to knock off the defending champions in every game.

“There’s definitely more pressure this year than last year because everybody wants to beat the best team,” Hayfield junior Ethan Pack said. “... It’s tougher, but it’s definitely more fun because we get to play great games every single day.”

View photos of Hayfield's 51-49 win over Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa in the Class A state boys basketball championship.

Hayfield went into the state tournament as the No. 1 seed. The Vikings lived up to their billing and used their vast big-game experience to win three more games at the state level, two by double figures.

Now that the Vikings have stepped up and delivered another state title, they can breath a sigh of relief. Hayfield finished its stellar 2021-22 season with a 32-2 record. It went 30-1 since suffering its only loss to a Class A team, 47-43 to Rushford-Peterson back on Dec. 9.

“It was a sigh of relief kind of because we’ve had a target on our back all year,” Hayfield senior guard Kobe Foster said. “It was an expectation of (being) No. 1 in the state, and to get back there (was great), and leaving it all on the floor.”

Foster and forward Easton Fritcher were the team's two starting seniors. They knew Saturday's championship game was their final one as Hayfield basketball players. And both players delivered two clutch free throws in the final 32 seconds in one-and-one situations to help the Vikings secure the state crown.

“This was my last game; I knew it was going to be my last game,” Fritcher said. “That’s the beauty of it really. I stepped out on the court, and I know Kobe did as well, and whatever happened, it was our last game.”


Fritcher is a star player on Hayfield's baseball team, which went unbeaten and won the Class A state title last spring. Foster is also a member of that team. The baseball team was bound for a Florida trip about 12 hours after wrapping up the state basketball title.

But the basketball team? The cupboard is hardly bare as Matti and Ethan Pack, both junior guards, were the team's top scorers this season. And 6-foot-4 sophomore Zander Jacobson is a strong inside presence who averaged more than eight points and eight rebounds per game this season.

So with three starters back next year, expect the Vikings to enter the season ranked No. 1 in Class A. And that could mean a little more pressure, with the possibility of a three-peat.

“We’re just going to enjoy this while we can,” Chris Pack said.

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Guy N. Limbeck is a Rochester native who has been working at a daily newspaper since 1981. He has worked at the Post Bulletin since 1999. Readers can reach Guy at 507-285-7724 or
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