Park Center has been to 4 straight state tournaments with Class AAA championships in 2014 and 2015. Elk River is the defending state champ at 32-0. Their losses to graduation, however, are staggering. Mikayla Hayes, Ann Simonet, Danielle Schaub, Gabi Haack, Sidney Wentland, Kelsie Cox and more. Still, both will be pretty good, but the door is open to a pair of new section champions. Who will go through that door?
In Section 5AAAA, the choice is pretty obvious. Centennial has had almost nothing but success over the past dozen years and has a big, deep and experienced lineup ready to hit the floor in 2017-2018. In 8AAAA, St. Michael-Albertville is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla but they fell short last year and Maple Grove and Moorhead feel like this is their year.
1. Centennial 22-7, lost to Park Center 53-46 in Section 5AAAA final
Actually, the Cougars won’t be quite as deep as they’ve been, and that might even be a good thing. Why not get 6-3 junior Sara Stapleton, 5-10 senior Syd Stapleton, 5-10 senior Claire Orth and 5-9 junior Taylor McAulay as many minutes as they can stand? Syd and McAulay provide the initial offense to the tune of 20 ppg between them. Sara provides secondary offense (15 ppg) and a lot of defense and rebounding. Orth pushes the pace—she is one of the state’s fastest players—and manages to score 9 ppg herself.
Key will be the hoped-for emergence of somebody at the 4 spot. 6-2 junior Sara Lavell is the top candidate, but 6-2 junior Cate Flynn and 5-10 senior Lexi Mathews are in the mix as well.
With the exception of the section final, when Centennial lost last year it tended to be due to defensive breakdowns. If the Cougars stay focused on team defense, they are going to do very well.
2. Champlin Park 21-7, lost to Centennial 62-46 in Section 5AAAA SF
The Rebels have almost everybody back—the exception being the athletic wing Alison Gerads and her 13-14 ppg. Megan Munneke, Grace Worwa and others are in the mix to replace Gerads but returning starters Erika Hicks, Makayla Johnson, Gabby Mocchi and Amanda Powell will pick up the slack, too. All but Johnson are seniors, and this is their year.
Johnson, a 6-2 junior post, and Mocchi, a 6-1 senior, give Champlin some size and strength inside. Powell is a strong, aggressive, pass-first 1, while Hicks is a super-polished offensive force who shoots the 3, gets to the rim and makes terrific decisions.
The only issue here is depth. Fouls and injuries are not going to help.
3. Park Center 26-7, lost to Eastview 75-65 in OT in state tournament QF
In addition to a great senior class, Park Center also loses coach Chris VanderHyde to the Gustavus men. But, don’t feel too sorry for the Pirates. A lot of talent returns led by senior guards Sommer Blakemore (5-6, 11 ppg) and Meghan DuBois (5-7, 8 ppg). After that, there is a fairly severe lack of size and experience, but there’s a lot of depth and incredible quickness.
Longer terms sophomore guards Lauren Frost, Aaliyah Regulen and Kayla Cox going to become the face of Park Center. Their success this year will depend to a large degree on their readiness today. 5-9 freshman Adalia Mackenzie is big, strong and athletic. Think Cayla McMorris but don’t expect too much too soon.
New coach Barb Metcalf has her work cut out for her. Again, there are a lot of building blocks but the Pirates also come with very high expectations.
4. Roseville 21-7, lost to Park Center 66-47 in Section 5AAAA SF
Roseville returns just 3 rotation players in 6-1 sophomore forward Jayda Johnston, 5-9 junior guard Kaylee Nelson and 5-6 junior guard Jada Hood. All 3 are going to have to pick up their game for Roseville to have the kind of success that they expect, but all 3 have the talent to do that. Johnston is an aggressive scorer and banger inside, Nelson a savvy combo guard, Hood quick and athletic
Sophomores Josie Haug, a post, and Tianna Iserman, a combo guard, may have the inside track to the other starting positions.
Roseville is another one that you needn’t waste too much time feeling sorry for. Whatever growing pains they experience will be accompanied by rapid growth.
5. Irondale 6-21, lost to Champlin 56-41 in Section 5AAAA QF
I feel like this is going out on the limb a little bit. Irondale has had precious little success in recent years. To be #5 in this section they’re going to have to be a vastly better and more committed defensive team than they’ve been. But 2nd year coach Nicole Bullock is pretty focused on that and I’m not betting against ‘em on that score.
They’ll score. Posts Dora Okpara, just a freshman, and Sara Loken, a senior, should lead in that department, though senior point guard Sophie Findell is in fact their top returnee at 10 ppg. So she can score and she can dish. And, unlike a lot of high school teams, there’s fourth option in 2-guard Kahlan Jester, who scored 7 ppg a year ago. Forwards Ashley Poulson and Kaley Waldemar will also contribute. There are plenty of weapon but, now, about that defense.
6. Mounds View 4-23, lost to Centennial 73-38 in Section 5AAAA QF
The Mustangs had so much more talent than 4-23 last year, you gotta wonder what happened. They lost at Roseville by 1, then pushed Mahtomedi down to the very end at the Hill-Murray holiday bash but won 1 game the entire rest of the season. I’m not finding fault with the coaching, but I’m not going to find fault with the decision to bring in a new coach, Ashlie Anzel. Job 1 would have to be an attitude adjustment.
And, then, one can get about the business of building around 6-1 sophomore center Lindsey Becher (9.5 ppg as a freshman) and senior point guard Sara Wendt, who jumped into the fray with a somnambulant senior class and contributed 14 ppg. Lizzy Kauls, Katie Manecke and Mia Wendt are back, and everybody will have to pick it up. There is no margin for error. But 4-23 is not gonna happen again.
7. Osseo 6-21, lost to Roseville 63-43 in Section 5AAAA QF
And, speaking of somnambulence, what happened to Osseo last year? The O’s are a perennial power, generally an 800-pound gorilla in these parts. And, they had a good looking senior class. But, it just didn’t get it done, losing to Blaine and Spring Lake Park at home early on, then losing 10 of 11 down the stretch.
Coach Jen Moen is back for another try. With all 5 starters from last year gone and the top returning scorer at 4 ppg, if this group doesn’t outwork last year’s the Orioles could be winless. My assumption is they’re going to hustle and gradually get back into it. Freshman guard Anna Corono and sophomore forward Jaiden Kline may represent the future and presumably they’re not going to “settle.” Still, it could be a long road back.
8. Spring Lake Park 3-24, lost to Park Center 67-28 in Section 5AAAA QF
OK, if you want somebody to feel sorry for, now’s your chance. The Panthers, even with D1 guard Jenna Murphy, have not been competitive in the NW Suburban, not in girls basketball. They’re doing OK in other sports, so I don’t think they’re going anywhere. But, can anything be done about this mess?
Coach Randy Eatherton returns with just slightly more talent than Osseo. Junior guard Jocelyn Talso will lead the way, and will have mostly sophomores and juniors on the floor with her. The Panthers will be taking it one possession at a time.
Center—Sara Stapleton, Centennial, 6-3, junior, 15 ppg
Power Forward—Gabby Mocchi, Champlin, 6-1, senior, 8.5 ppg
Small Forward—Sydney Stapleton, Centennial, 6-0, senior, 10 ppg
Point Guard—Claire Orth, Centennial, 5-9, senior, 9 ppg
Shooting Guard—Taylor McAulay, Centennial, 5-9, junior, 10 ppg
Center—Lindsey Becher, Mounds View, 6-1, sophomore, 9.5 ppg
Power Forward—Jayda Johnston, Roseville, 6-1, sophomore, 8 ppg
Point Guard—Amanda Powell, Champlin, 5-8, senior, 8 ppg
Combo Guard—Sommer Blakemore, Park Center, 5-7, senior, 11 ppg
Shooting Guard—Erika Hicks, Champlin, 5-7, senior, 19 ppg
Center—Makayla Johnson, Champlin, 6-2, junior, 5.5 ppg
Power Forward—Sara Loken, Irondale, 6-0, senior, 7 ppg
Point Guard—Sophie Findell, Irondale, 5-7, senior, 10 ppg
Combo Guard—Sarah Wendt, Mounds View, 5-9 senior, 14 ppg
Shooting Guard—Meghan DuBois, Park Center, 5-8, senior, 8 ppg
Center—Dora Okpara, Irondale, 6-0, freshman, 6 ppg
Power Forward—Adalia Mackenzie, Park Center, 5-9, freshman, 2 ppg
Small Forward—Jaiden Kline, Osseo, sophomore, 3 ppg
Point Guard—Aaliyah Ragulen, Park Center, 5-3, sophomore, 1 ppg
Combo Guard—Lauren Frost, Park Center, 5-6, sophomore, 3 ppg
More Stock Raisers
Center—Josie Haug, Roseville, sophomore
Forward—Julia Levahn, Spring Lake Park, sophomore, 3 ppg
Point Guard—Joelle Talso, Spring Lake Park, sophomore, 3 ppg
Combo Guard—Anna Corono, Osseo, freshman, 4 ppg
Combo Guard—Grace Johnson, Centennial, sophomore