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Posted On: 01/30/19 10:28 PM
It’s finally here. The one we have all been waiting for. Some 70 days into the 2018-19 Minnesota girls high school basketball season it’s Hopkins vs Wayzata, and it’s going to be great. At least we hope it’s great after the chaos caused this week by Old Man Winter, which has made the run-up to this contest unusual to say the least. Although the two teams cannot meet in a state championship game because they reside in the same section, this game certainly feels like it has championship implications.
The two teams are very different in terms of composition, style of play and their history of success, and that’s a big part of what makes it an intriguing match-up. Last year, in the first of two meetings, Wayzata came from 20 points down to pull off a dramatic 70-66 victory, and celebrated as though it meant a great deal. Hopkins, on the other hand, shrugged off the loss as a bad day at the office and quickly moved on.
When the two teams met a month later, it was a very different outcome. The score? 69-38 in favor of the Royals. The game? It was a complete dismantling of the Trojans. Wayzata lost its next game, too, and ended up bowing out in the section semifinals in a stunning loss to Minneapolis South. Hopkins went on to the championship game at state where they lost a close one to Eastview.
RECENT RESULTS IN THE RIVALRY
Among those players who will suit up on Friday, the only one who has been around to experience every one of those nine games is Wayzata senior Mimi Schrader. She was an 8th grader getting her feet wet in varsity ball back in 2015. On Friday the Navy commit will be one of Wayzata’s most important pieces.
Hopkins: Paige Bueckers, Amaya Battle, KK Adams, Maya Nnaji, Dlayla Chakolis. Also in the short rotation are Taylor Woodson and Alayna Contreras. Nunu Agara and Andrea Gray might see some minutes, too.
Wayzata: Kallie Theisen, Jenna Johnson, Annika Stewart, Mara Braun, Mimi Schrader. Also in the rotation are Jasmine Smiley, Alivia Arnebeck and Lydia Hay.
Senior Kallie Theisen vs freshman Maya Nnaji
Theisen is seasoned veteran at Wayzata, who has been to war in high school and at the highest levels of AAU for a long time. The 6’2 South Dakota State commit is fearless, and that approach to the game earned her the #1 ranking in the Prep Girls Hoops Class of 2019. Maya Nnaji is one of the best prospects in the state, an athletic 6’3 freshman who has a ton of tools in her toolbox. Nnaji might be #1 in the 2022 class, but we’ll give the edge to Theisen based on four more years in the trenches. Advantage: Wayzata.
Sophomore Jenna Johnson vs senior Dlayla Chakolis
Wayzata’s Jenna Johnson stepped onto the varsity stage last season and made an immediate impact at a very high level. She’s the #2 prospect in the 2021 class for a reason, and her play will be a huge factor in this game. Dlayla Chakolis has had an outstanding high school career, overcoming a long line of doubters who insisted she was too small to play like a power forward. Chakolis, who earned her way into the 2019 top 15, is headed for D1 Hampton University this fall. This is a tough one, but we’ll give a very slight edge to Johnson based only on her superior height and length. Advantage: Wayzata.
Senior Mimi Schrader vs junior Paige Bueckers
Mimi Schrader is an excellent floor general, a skilled warrior who has established herself as a legitimate D1 point guard. Nobody plays harder, and Schrader has done an outstanding job for the Trojans for a long time. Her counterpart on the other side is Paige Bueckers, who is arguably the best 17-year-old guard on the planet. Need we say more? Advantage: Hopkins.
Freshman Mara Braun vs freshman Amaya Battle
Mara Braun of Wayzata is an amazing basketball player. She’s rated 4th in an incredibly strong freshmen class. She can shoot, attack, defend… pretty much anything you want. Amaya Battle is also a freshman. She’s big and strong and smart. She’s #3 in the class, which seems impossible given just how good Amaya really is. Their long-term potential is basically a toss-up. Today, however, there is one big difference: experience. A year ago Braun was still playing travel ball. Although she has certainly proven her worth this year, it’s her first actual Hopkins vs Wayzata encounter. Amaya, on the other hand, has been an impact player on the varsity level since 7th grade. She’s seen it, done it, proved it. Advantage: Hopkins.
Junior Jasmine Smiley vs junior KK Adams
*These two kids are remarkably similar, both in size, speed and shooting ability. Both have been known to hit big shots at big moments. They’ll likely play a major role in this contest and neither should be left open or the threes will be raining. We’re calling this a dead heat. Advantage: none.
* UPDATE: In an earlier version of this story I used a description of Jasmine and KK that was unnecessarily negative and inaccurate. I didn’t intend it that way, but that’s how it appeared. I apologize for this error. I have great respect for both players and did not intend to cast them in a negative light.
Junior Annika Stewart vs 8th grader Taylor Woodson
Both players are big, but Stewart tends to do more guard-type things while Woodson is every bit a power forward. At least that’s how we see it but others might beg to differ. Stewart can really shoot the three, and she’ll do it all night long if you let her. Woodson uses her size and athleticism to score at the rim. Both will play at the next level but Woodson’s top end is way higher. There might be an experience gap of three years but Woodson is an 8th grader in name only. Advantage: Hopkins.
Junior Alivia Arnebeck vs freshman Alayna Contreras
Arnebeck has improved every year and emerged last winter as a trustworthy foot solider who could hold her own against the best. Contreras is a high-end talent with tremendous athleticism, but she’s a freshman with no exposure to a big rivalry game like this. Advantage: Wayzata.
Coach Mike Schumacher vs Coach Brian Cosgriff
Mike Schumacher is a solid high school coach who runs a good program and has a ton of talent at his disposal. Brian Cosgriff is, well, Brian Cosgriff. He has six state championships on his resume. If there’s a game situation that needs to be managed, you can be pretty sure he has been there and done that. Cosgriff works 24-7-365 to help his team be the best, and nobody is more prepared for an opponent than the Royals. Advantage: Hopkins.
From one end of the roster to the other, it’s a close matchup on paper. However… and it’s a big however… there are two more factors that weigh heavily in Hopkins’ favor.
First, the Trojans have beaten Hopkins just once in the past five years. Wayzata’s performance in the second half of that game was, for the most part, exceptional. Had they followed that up with another victory, or even played the Royals close, you could make a case that the mental hurdles involved in a long-time, one-sided rivalry had been overcome. But they didn’t. The Trojans got spanked, lost their next game at Minnetonka and were unceremoniously bounced in sections shortly thereafter. I’m sure the folks at Wayzata would say that is old news now, but those mental scars may still be a factor.
Second, Paige Bueckers. We’ve said it all before, but Paige has IQ, vision, handles, range, smarts, experience. Basically the 6-foot guard has it all. She has won two gold medals with Team USA – one more if you count the 3-on-3 title – and has performed at the highest level under all kinds of pressure. When the game is on the line, Bueckers will have the ball and that’s a big advantage.
It will be close, but we’re taking Hopkins by 4.
Top photo: Hopkins junior Paige Bueckers and Wayzata sophomore Jenna Johnson will do battle Friday at 7:15 at Hopkins. (Photo courtesy Southwest News Media)