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Eckelberg punches 2nd ticket to national finals

Practice time leading up to the Elks Hoop Shoot National Finals for Dickinson 12-year-old Madison Eckelberg hasn’t been easy.

Due to the West River Community Center remodeling, Eckelberg has had to practice in a side gym with two nets.

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However, it’s not just finding a court, but juggling time between other activities.

“I have optimist basketball practice and softball is starting, so we have to come really late or really early,” she said. “We just have to find the right time, especially when people aren’t (at the West River Community Center).”

Madison’s mother, Denae, said practices have ranged anywhere from right after school to 10 p.m.

“Practice has been our biggest challenge,” Denae said. “Sometimes she’ll come in and there’ll be 10 or 15 people on one hoop. We try to come in early in the morning or late at night to find a time that it isn’t too busy.”

Nonetheless, Madison has withstood the erratic practice schedules and reached the national finals today in Springfield, Mass.

“I get to go halfway across the country to shoot free throws,” she said with a laugh. “To know that I made it there made me feel good.”

Madison isn’t a stranger to the national finals. She reached the finals three years ago and used her prior experience to prepare for this year’s national finals.

“I had the confidence that you know you can make it,” she said. “It’s easier to practice, because you know what you have to do.”

Madison said despite making it before there are still those jitters.

“I’m a little bit nervous,” she said. “But for the most part I was a little bit more nervous the first time that I went, because I was younger.”

The path Madison took to get to the national finals was winning in Dickinson, Jamestown and Rapid City (S.D.). She made 21 free throws in Jamestown during the state finals and 18 in Rapid City for the regionals.

Madison has one more year of eligibility to compete in the Elks Hoop Shoot. She was born one day before the cutoff date.

“We are just so proud of Madison, because it is a challenge to get that far,” Denae said. “There are quite a few steps getting there. A lot of hard work went into it and it paid off.

“I’m just so proud of her. When she made it there the first time, she wanted to get back there. She was able to achieve that this year and I’m just so proud of her.”