Fairfax/Gibbon, first of its kind

Melissa Young reflects on Tomahawk’s 1st state girls basketball team

Submitted photo The 1986-87 Fairfax/Gibbon girls basketball state tournament team. Front row (l-r): Jo Grosklags, Marie Grosklags, Katie Isakson, Kristi Henderson, Lisa Domeier, Karen Dummer, Kari Schaefer. Back row (l-r): Manager Marcie Lieske, Jackie Haas, Susie Schroeder, Jodi Hurney, Melissa Young, Coleen Palmer, Head Coach Bill Alexander, Assistant Coach Jamie Plummer.

Years before becoming an accomplished head coach, Melissa Young’s first big basketball goal came when she reached high school.

Even as a freshman, Young got some puzzled looks as she put pictures of the Met Center up inside lockers.

“I think we started talking about it already when I was a freshman, no team at Fairfax or Gibbon or Winthrop had ever gone to state before,” Young said. “So we had put up pictures of the Met Center, that’s when it was the Met Center, I put it up in everybody’s locker their freshman year, their sophomore year. The kids all I thought I was kind of crazy at first, but I was like, ‘No, we want to be there,’ [laughs].”

But Young’s goal eventually became a reality during her 1986-87 junior year with the then-named Fairfax/Gibbon Cavaliers as they became the first girls basketball team from the Tomahawk Conference to make it to the state tournament.

Young, who ended her high school career as a three-time All-Conference girls basketball player, grew up on a farm south of Fairfax. During her freshman and sophomore years, Young played with Fairfax Eagles before Fairfax and Gibbon united to form the Cavaliers during her junior year. The schools then joined with Winthrop to form the Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop Thunderbirds during Young’s senior year.

Submitted photo From left to right: Fairfax/Gibbon’s Jodi Hurney (left) and teammate Melissa Young look to stop New London-Spicer’s Jackie Reese-Clark shot during a state tournament game at the Met Center in Bloomington, Minnesota on March 19, 1987. Also pictured is Susie Schroeder (40), Corina Sarsland (51) and Coleen Palmer-Helberg (right).

During Young’s sophomore year, head coach Bill Alexander and the team went up to watch the girls basketball state tournament together. Young said Ted Domeier, one major supporter of the team from Fairfax, also aided the trip that year by renting hotel rooms for the team.

The Cavaliers took another trip back to the state tournament the following year.

But this time, they got to play in it.

The road to the 1987 state tournament saw Fairfax/Gibbon competing with several top teams in the conference, such as Gaylord and Minnesota Valley Lutheran.

“That year, the conference was actually really good kind of from top to bottom,” Young said. “We were ranked in state, Gaylord was and MVL was. Everyone was actually pretty solid that year.”

After defeating Gaylord to win the district championship, Fairfax/Gibbon defeated Mayer Lutheran and then Christ’s Household of Faith to advance to the Class A state tournament for the first time. At that time, there was a Class A and Class AA state tournament.

Young was a unanimous All-Conference player also in 1986-87 alongside teammate and 5-foot-11 senior center Jodi Hurney. Fairfax/Gibbon also saw senior Jackie Haas and junior Susie Schroeder named All-Conference Honorable Mentions that season.

Many things went into the Cavaliers’ run to state, but it started with good coaching.

“Bill Alexander was our head coach and Mr. Plummer, Jamie Plummer, he ended up going on to be a very good coach in Wisconsin, so we had just very good coaching,” Young said. “Execution-wise — everything was very specific — like drills. And the difference with that group was that group really did a lot of extra stuff.

“We started playing in the summer in summer leagues in Willmar … almost every Sunday we had open gym, so everybody would go to church and then a lot of mom and dads would come with us in the gym and we’d be in the gym from 1 to 5 almost every Sunday.”

Young said the time spent at open gym drastically improved the team’s free-throw shooting as its percentage soared from around 50% the year before to 90% during that 86-87 season. She also said the team’s balance and competitiveness were other factors in the run to state.

“We had really good guards, really good posts,” Young said. “Inside-outside game, really unselfish play. Balanced. It was just a really good group of young ladies and very competitive. Every drill in practice was competitive. And then I think it also helped the conference was so tough, it did a great job of preparing you for once you did get into playoffs.”

Fairfax/Gibbon ended up falling to New London-Spicer 51-38 in the state quarterfinals at the Met Center in Bloomington and then fell 55-52 to Marshall County Central in the consolation semifinals game at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.

Despite not getting the results the team was looking for, it was a first-time experience for the players, coaches and community that is still looked back on fondly to this day.

For Young, it was still just the beginning of a long journey in basketball as she became a varsity head coach at the age of 22.

That first varsity coaching job came with the Nicollet girls basketball team in 1992. Young later went on to coach for many other teams and ages, including assistant coaching for the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team from 2000-02 and head coaching for the St. Louis Surge pro basketball team from 2011-13. She also returned to Nicollet to coach the girls basketball team in 2013 for four seasons.

Young is now in her second year as the girls basketball head coach for Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn/Remsen-Union in Iowa.

Young has been aided and inspired by many great coaches throughout her career, but she credits her earlier coaches for inspiring her to get into coaching and still uses their coaching methods today.

“My grade-school coach was Mr. Ristow, Randy Ristow, he was a coach for many, many years at St. John’s Lutheran in Fairfax, so it was him, Mr. Alexander and Mr. Plummer that kind of got both my sister and I into coaching,” Young said. “They made it fun. Practices were hard, but they made it enjoyable and they did a lot of extra stuff. We were doing lifting and doing speed training before, I think, it really was a thing. We were doing different shooting workouts, they would tally things.

“And also, faith was at their core, they believed in us and really set a good base for us. Just team first. Personal stats, none of those three coaches ever really talked to us about personal stats, it was always team stats. They focused on team rebounds, not turning the ball over and getting to the free-throw line. I always tell my girls, too, ‘Offense sells tickets, you have to be able to score and have fun doing that, defense wins games, but rebounds and free throws wins championships.'”


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