NRHEG’s Carlie Wagner is a modest winner

Published 10:26am Thursday, March 20, 2014

Column: Notes from Nashville, by Andrew Dyrdal

I watched Carlie Wagner play basketball for the first time on Jan. 28, 2011. I was in my first winter season at the Tribune, and Carlie, now a senior, was just a ninth-grader leading the NRHEG girls’ basketball team to what looked like a come-from-behind win against United South Central in Wells.

It was an important conference battle as both teams would go on to tie for the Gopher Conference championship, and USC stopped a furious NRHEG comeback by hitting a long two-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. USC outscored the Panthers by nine in overtime and celebrated a hard-fought win at midcourt after the final horn blew.

Carlie finished with 15 points, far less than half of what she would eventually average during her junior and senior seasons.

The future star was impressive, not stunning, but offered a glimpse of what was to come. What impressed me the most, though, was not her innate scoring ability, but her poise under pressure for a girl who just began high school. Despite the loss, you could tell she was a winner.

I remember that game vividly, and I’m sure Carlie does, too, because she’s only lost three times since in 3 1/2 seasons.

Carlie is now 96 points away from breaking the state’s single-season scoring record, an attainable task even with only two games remaining.

This is the Panthers’ third consecutive trip to state but their first time entering ranked No. 1 and undefeated. They’re certainly moving onto the semifinals with a target on their backs, but I’m not sure it’s one anyone can hit. The Panthers haven’t lost since Dec. 1, 2012, and they’ve won 59 straight games.

It’s been a long time since USC beat NRHEG in overtime that night in Wells, and a lot has changed. Carlie has committed — along with her teammate and best friend, Jade Schultz — to play basketball at the University of Minnesota.

She has gone from a ninth-grader who showed flashes of brilliance in small town gyms across southern Minnesota, to upstaging the state’s greatest players in front of thousands of fans on the state’s biggest stage. She went from role player to Miss Basketball finalist and has remained modest throughout the entire process.

Carlie improved her skill in every facet of the game over her career, but her intangible qualities haven’t changed. She is the greatest humble winner I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet.

Carlie and the Panthers have played 104 games since I first watched them on Jan. 28, 2011. I had no idea then that they would go on to win 101 of them, but I know Carlie has a few more wins up her sleeve.

Andrew Dyrdal’s column appears in the Tribune each Tuesday.