In a league of her own
By PATRICK SLACK
Heading into her senior season, Aimee Pelzer had already done a complete revision of the Upsala record books.
Only one thing remained: a trip to state.
Even with a roster hit hard by graduation, Upsala set out to take the final step with Pelzer leading a rebuilt supporting cast, one that was smaller, but featured increased quickness.
By the end of the year, the sensational senior had tallied her 2,000th career point, been named to the all-state team, cut down the nets as section champions and solidified herself as one of the best all-around talents the state has ever seen.
2,000 and 14
A young roster learned on the fly to open the season as Upsala sprinted out of the gates with a 14-game win streak.
In the middle of the run, Pelzer, already the school’s all-time leading scorer, joined a select list to reach 2,000 points for her career against St. John’s Prep.
Two-time defending state champion Maranatha Academy used a pair of buzzer-beaters to finally hand Upsala its first defeat in overtime, Jan. 26, before the Cardinals went on to win a share of their fourth consecutive Prairie Conference championship and close the regular season with a record of 22-4.
Cutting down the nets
Outside of an early scare in its sub-section semifinal against Browerville, Upsala dominated its way through the Sub-Section 5A West bracket, winning each game by at least 29 points to earn another chance at a section championship.
This time, it was Pine River-Backus waiting on the other side, a team that had taken Upsala down to the wire earlier in the year.
The Tigers came out on fire, seizing the early momentum with a 21-6 lead and putting Upsala’s state tournament dreams in serious jeopardy.
“It was looking pretty bad,” Aimee said. “But when my dad (Upsala head coach Paul Pelzer) called a time out, he said just to relax and play our game, that things were going to change for the better and it did.
“He said we needed to step up the defensive pressure and start getting some stops and the ball would start to fall in for us,” she said. “We needed to get our crowd back into it, which happened.”
And Pelzer was the instigator, draining a pair of threes and blocking two shots as the Cardinals closed within four at halftime.
The Tigers still had the lead coming out of the locker room, but could never regain their edge, as Upsala took control down the stretch, pulling away for a 47-41 win to clinch a trip to state.
“I really didn’t think about it too much until about 10 seconds to go and we were up by nine,” Aimee said. “When the buzzer sounded I jumped for joy and yelled with happiness as I ran to the bench to share hugs and celebrations with my teammates. It was so amazing.”
“We all were so motivated to advance this year,” Aimee said. “After an exciting summer of ball we knew that we had a good chance at getting there.”
Playing at ‘The Barn’
Upsala found itself matched up against a much bigger, more physical opponent in third-ranked Bethlehem Academy in the state quarterfinals at Williams Arena.
The Cardinals held tough in the first half, only trailing by two at the break, but were sunk by a 13-0 Bethlehem run to open the second half in a 66-51 defeat.
Still, the experience of playing on the state’s biggest stage was one the team will carry with them.
“It was so cool,” Aimee said. “I will never forget it and am thankful we had the opportunity to get there … what an amazing experience.”
“If you would’ve asked me at the end of last season if we would have gotten to state this year, I would have said probably no way, but when I watched the girls play this past summer I knew there was a chance,” coach Pelzer said.
“I knew they were quicker and could play great defense, it was just the offensive part I didn’t know about until mid-season,” he said.
Cardinal in rarefied air
Two all-state basketball teams are put together each winter: one by class and another statewide.
While Pelzer’s repeat selection to the Class A team was a slam dunk, she was one of only two small-school honorees among 15 players selected to the statewide roster, earning a spot on the third team.
“Wow,” coach Pelzer said. “I couldn’t believe it. Usually Class 1A gets overlooked, but this year Aimee and Jessica Matthews from Bethlehem Academy were chosen. We are very proud. That’s a huge honor.”
“It is a great honor to be recognized with this award, especially with all the great players in the state of Minnesota,” Aimee said. “It’s rather humbling.”
Pelzer finished with 2,606 career points and 1,006 assists, with her renowned passing prowess providing scoring opportunities for her teammates and herself.
“It is so valuable,” coach Pelzer said. “You don’t get to see many athletes with that type of talent go through your programs. I was fortunate enough to have one of those types of athletes.”
“Other coaches hated it, but I loved it,” he said. “When they would say to me that they won’t miss Aimee being on the court next year, I guess that’s a compliment to her. I guess I would’ve liked to have seen her shoot more, but the girls loved playing with her because of her unselfishness.”
But often overlooked was her rebounding ability, as her 978 career boards nearly made her the first player in state history to reach 1,000 points, assists and rebounds.
“She is a silent rebounder – just being in the right spot and anticipating where the ball may fall,” coach Pelzer said. “Such a smart player. You can’t teach that.”
“I am sure we probably missed some rebounds that she had through her career, but what’s written down is what we have to go by,” he said. As it was, Aimee’s career proved a rare treat for the Cardinals’ team, fans … and her coach father. “It was awesome,” he said. “The six years she played has gone by so fast. I’m not going to say that there weren’t any issues, but mine were so very few from when you talk to other schools and their coaches. I had it good.”
“She had to prove that she deserved to play and she did. She is an amazing student-athlete and Upsala High School will sadly miss her after graduation,” coach Pelzer said.
“It is very hard to say goodbye,” Aimee said. “I can’t believe it is over. It’s so sad, but I guess we all have to move on.
“I will never forget all the good times I have had playing as a Cardinal,” she said. “I have had the privilege to play with some great athletes and great friends as well. I will miss UHS so much. I will be back cheering on the red and white in the coming years.”
MC Record Player of the Year: 2012-13 Stats
Points: 686 (22.1 per game)
Assists: 262 (8.5)
Rebounds: 214 (6.9)
Steals: 131 (4.2)
Blocks: 44 (1.4)