Posted On: 03/3/19 3:46 PM

Section play is equal parts joy and sadness. There is the celebration of the underdogs as we saw on Saturday – ask the girls from Austin, Spring Lake Park, Totino-Grace and Royalton how good it feels – and there is the sadness of seeing so many of our favorite seniors bow out for the final time. It seems to go down pretty much the same way for most players as the kids exit the game for the final time. Rather than high-fiving their teammates in the normal substitution ritual, there are usually hugs followed by tears as the realization sets in that high school basketball is over. Forever.

McKenna Hofschild of Prior Lake will forever be remembered for her 63-point game, but her performance this week was probably more heroic. (Photo courtesy of StarTribune)

I went to Edina on Wednesday night knowing I would experience the familiar ritual, either for Macy Nilsen of Edina or McKenna Hofschild of Prior Lake, two of the players we have enjoyed watching the most. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting to see Hofschild play at all. She has been out for a month since suffering a significant ankle injury. She had a 30-second cameo appearance for senior night but that was it. Surprisingly, however, McKenna entered the game at Edina in the first half. It was painful to watch, but nowhere near as painful as it was for her. Hofschild could barely run, and her efforts to jump were futile. What she could do was walk the ball up the floor and put her pass in just the right place for her teammate to score. She also made a single three-point basket.

Hofschild’s participation – perhaps 10 minutes total – was just enough for Prior Lake to win the game and end Nilsen’s career at Edina where her dad Matt is the head coach. Prior Lake lived to fight another day, before bowing out on Saturday to Eden Prairie. In her final game of high school basketball, Hofschild managed to score 19 points. Incredible. McKenna is a remarkable athlete and a tough competitor. The folks at Seton Hall are sure to enjoy the show for the next four years.

Other seniors bowing out

Hofschild wasn’t the only top senior to play her final high school game this week. In fact, 11 of the top 25 players in the Prep Girls Hoops Class of 2019 were knocked out. Destinee Oberg, Frannie Hottinger, Tori Nelson, Joey Batt, Mykel Parham, Carly Krsul, Masengo Mutanda, Kaylee Nelson, Shyanne Loiland and Lariah Washington each had their swansong, as well. One more – #17-ranked Elaina Jones of DeLaSalle – suffered a season-ending injury mid-year. Ten more players in the top 50 also departed, including Alyssa Daugherty, Anna Harvey, Macy Nilsen, Jamie Guptil, Shawna Mell, Sierra Morrow, Caitlin Rorman and Solape Amusan. Ashley Gustavson of Mankato East saw her career come to an end a few weeks ago due to a knee injury. All but one of those players (Mutanda) has made a college commitment.

Cambridge-Isanti has emerged as a contender for the 7AAAA section championship. (Photo courtesy of Cambridge-Isanti HS)

The Bluejackets aren’t feeling blue now

I love a good turnaround story and we have seen several this season. The emergence of Farmington and Becker as high-level programs has been most notable. So, too, has Rosemount’s second-half surge and the return of Rochester John Marshall as a program to be reckoned with. One of the most interesting stories, however, is that of Cambridge-Isanti which will play in the Section 7AAAA final this week against Forest Lake.

The Bluejackets won just four games one year ago. This year they have won 18, and on Saturday C-I knocked off a very hot Andover squad 55-41 to advance. There are a lot of reasons why Cambridge-Isanti is different this year. The biggest – literally – is probably the return to form of junior post Jana Swanson. Her story is nothing short of remarkable considering that she overcome three major ACL injuries. Jana has probably logged more time in physical therapy than any player in Minnesota. Over the past year, she has gone from ‘happy to be back’ to dominant. On Wednesday, Swanson pulled down 11 rebounds against Coon Rapids to break the C-I school single season record of 282. She has also been her team’s leading scorer all season (10.6 ppg), a year in which we have seen tremendous growth from sophomore Kaylee Clement and junior Jackie Olander, along with the impact of freshman guard Mikayla Aumer, who is a ball of fire on the floor.

The Bluejackets’ ace in the hole, however, has been the return of junior guard Amme Sheforgen to varsity basketball. Sheforgen was relegated to the JV team from January to January after transferring from St. Francis. Upon her return, Amme’s impact was almost immediate. She has been C-I’s leading scorer since then and their offensive spark plug. Some people have had Forest Lake’s name etched on the Section 7AAAA trophy since last fall. Based on the upsets we saw on Saturday, and the performances we have seen from Cambridge-Isanti, that outcome is no longer a sure thing.

Welcome to the 1,000-point club & other accomplishments

We have another crop of 1,000-point scorers this week, including:

  • Junior Paige Thompson of Hawley, who is the only player in the 2020 class to announce a college commitment (MSU-Moorhead) so far. The 6’3 post needed 19 points on Thursday against Thief River Falls to hit 1,000. She got 20.
  • Senior Taylor Crissinger of Fairmont reached the 1,000-mark on Wednesday. The five-year varsity player was part of Minnesota Rise Wolfe.
  • Junior guard Carly Hager of New Life Academy hit 1,000 against Christ’s Household of Faith in St. Paul. Hager is the 9th player in school history to do it.
  • Senior Britney Smith of Fridley also hit 1,000 on Monday. The 5’10 forward will play in the fall for Kirkwood CC in Missouri.

Junior guard Gus Boyer of Waseca has been an integral part of the Bluejays rise to Class AAA state championship contender. Boyer set a school career record this week for most three-point baskets with 174. Gus, who is a top 30 player in the Class of 2020, scored 24 points on Saturday as Waseca knocked off Hutchinson to advance to the Section 2AAA final against Marshall. She needs one more bucket to hit the 1,000-point mark. Her teammate Madison Gehloff needs 34 points to hit 2,000.

Junior Paige Bueckers of Hopkins is up for another prestigious award – the Naismith High School Player of the Year. The #1 player in the Class of 2020 is one of five finalists, and the other four are all her mates on Team USA: Seniors Zia Cooke of Toledo, Ohio (South Carolina), Jordan Horston of Columbus, Ohio (Tennessee)  and Hailey Jones of Santa Cruz, Calif. (Stanford) plus sophomore Azzi Fudd of Washington, D.C. The award will be presented March 15 by the Atlanta Tipoff Club.

Top photo: Fairmont senior Taylor Crissinger’s high school career came to a close but not before she hit the 1,000-career points mark.