Posted On: 12/5/19 11:15 AM

There will be very few games this winter when it might be possible for an opponent to upset powerhouse Hopkins and upend their quest for a second straight perfect season. This is one of those games. Friday night in Farmington, the Tigers will host the Royals in the biggest contest of the 2019-20 Minnesota high school season to date.

Farmington is a program on the rise. When Liz Carpentier took over as coach in the fall of 2015 the team was coming off a three-win season. They doubled their number of wins the next year, became a .500 team the year after that, and last year went 24-4. Farmington is off to a quick start, winning all three games so far and demonstrating clearly, both as individuals and collectively, that they are much better than they were when the last season ended in March.

Last Saturday at the Hamline University tournament, Farmington illustrated its capabilities clearly in a challenging 79-74 win over Stillwater. The Ponies’ Amber Scalia staked her team to a 10-2 lead out of the gate, but Farmington went on a 19-0 run to seize control. Stillwater’s Alexis Pratt put on a stunning second-half display to put her team in a position to win before Farmington, which out-rebounded Stillwater by a 2-1 margin, sealed the deal with a couple of big plays in the waning moments. It was heady stuff. Farmington’s big three – senior guard Molly Mogensen, junior post Sophie Hart, and junior guard Paige Kindseth – were simply outstanding, and the supporting cast did their jobs very, very well. Now comes the hard part.

Q&A with Farmington coach Liz Carpentier

We have written at length over the past couple of years about Farmington’s rise and the development of the Tigers’ top players. Heading into, perhaps, their biggest game of the current era, we thought it would be interesting to get the coach’s perspective on her players, the team, and the opportunity to face the very best team Minnesota has to offer. We spoke with Tigers’ head coach Liz Carpentier on Wednesday. Our conversation has been edited for brevity. Enjoy!

Q: I’d like to talk first about your team leaders one by one. Let’s start with your point guard Molly Mogensen. Obviously she’s a senior, but she really is the heart and soul of your team, is she not?

A: Her leadership is second-to-none. She has done two things for us that I think are really key for our program, and that’s why we have seen success. Number one, she has embraced the process. As a point guard so much is put on your shoulders, and being a starting point guard as an 8th grader was not an easy task for her. There was so much learning going on, and there were highs and lows every season. When we shared our vision with her about how we could turn this program around, she embraced that and did the things that we asked her to do. The second thing is she gets everybody involved. She is able to get all of our pieces going and I think that allows us to be really successful. We play such a team-style game. We don’t rely on one or two kids. Her doing those two things has not only completely changed our culture but it has put us on the map as a high-level basketball team that can compete. She has been totally on board and it has been fun.

Q: If you are going to be a great team you obviously need a great point guard, but it doesn’t hurt to have a 6’4 post player, either. Give us your thoughts on Sophie Hart.

A: Watching her this season in practice, and then in our first three games, she is way better than she was last March. She is so assertive. She has been just commanding the paint both offensively and defensively. She has been working hard on her shooting mechanics, and I think that has really helped her. I know she gets a ton of offensive rebounds but she has to work for those. I think she is finishing so much better around the basket because she is working hard at it in practice. I also see her emerging as a leader now. She is vocal. I didn’t see that as much last year, and she is providing leadership through her play, too. She is getting stronger all the time and is being more assertive.”

Q: It seems to me that going to the tryouts in Colorado for Team USA was maybe a turning point for Sophie. I think she came back from there feeling really good about herself. Would you agree?

A: Definitely. We sat down when she came back and she said how hard it was. It was such high-level talent. She was challenged every day, every minute, in every drill, in whatever they were doing. I think, looking back, she felt really good afterword about her performance. I think she said, ‘Hey, I know now that I am one of the top players in the nation.’ She also realized what she needed to do to get better. I like that about her, that she knows she is a work in progress – she’s going to do the work – but I think she gained a lot of confidence from that, too.

Q: I have liked Paige Kindseth for a long time, and I have had the good fortune to watch her a lot, but it has taken some time for people, including college coaches, to see just how good she can be. In your first few games it seems as though Paige has kind of gone to a whole new level. Would you agree?

A: Yes. We talked with Paige in the off-season and told her that she needs to show, within the flow of the game, that she can dominate. And she can. We talked about consistency. You can’t score 8 points one game and have 20 the next. She needs to play at a high level all the time, and use the things that she is good at. We have been on her constantly to attack and drive to the basket. She has embraced that and taken it to a whole new level like you said. She really has just come out of her shell this year. There are so many facets to her game where she can be impactful. She needs to show that she can dominate without being selfish. I think she’s done a great job.

Q: That is essentially what she did in Saturday’s game, is it not? I mean, she asserted herself in every possible way, and scored some big buckets at big moments. I think her ability to create space and get her shot up in traffic is as good as anyone. She kind of reminds me of Lauren Jensen in that way. There are not a lot of players who can do that.

A: I tell Paige all the time that she can get into any gap she wants, more so than anyone on our team, and she elevates higher than anyone on our team. I tell her, ‘Paige, there is nobody that can stop your shot.’ She’s going to get into the paint, she’s going drive through a crease, and she’s going to be able to elevate and shoot it. Her mid-range is unbelievable and that’s where we want to utilize her. That and her rebounding ability. That also changes the game. You know we’ll be watching her during the game, and she’s just doing her thing, and then all of a sudden she’ll make the most unbelievable play. That’s the thing that I love about her. It’s so fun to watch.

Q: Let’s talk about Peyton Blandin. When she was younger, Peyton was a top-20 or top-25 prospect in that class. After that I think she kind of flat-lined for a while, but over the last 12 months, with the success that you’ve had, I think she has been on an upward trajectory. Last weekend I feel that her confidence level was higher than I’ve seen it for a long, long time.

A: I agree with you 100 percent.  We worked with her in the summer, and we wanted to get her to the point where she was comfortable attacking the basket and pulling up for a jump shot. We didn’t want her to be just two-dimensional – either taking the three-point shot or going all the way to the hoop. She has added that to her game. She has the green light to shoot it. She can drive by anybody. We just want her to be more assertive. She’s not as vocal as everybody else. That’s OK – that’s her personality – but we don’t want her to defer this year and kind of hide behind in the shadows. She is a really important piece to our success. In big games she is very poised, she’s composed, and I don’t think she is afraid this year. She is playing fearless, which is good to see.

Q: You have a very good supporting cast. Most good high school teams have kids that are high school players who maybe aren’t going to play in college, or maybe they are going to play another sport, but they have to contribute a lot if you are going to be successful. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a better player in that niche than Katelyn Mohr, would you not?

A: Yeah, she is so valuable to us. First of all, she is a great leader and is one of our three captains, and she is so coachable. She has fundamentally worked on her shooting, she has worked on her jump shot, she has worked on just understanding the game more. Her growth in those areas, and her just being a phenomenal athlete, has allowed her to play big-time minutes. She is really contributing in a positive way. She rebounds, she’s not afraid to get in there and get scrappy and be aggressive. On Saturday she made some big-time plays, diving on the floor, getting a couple of big steals, that big layup she made. She is clutch. She has such a strong mindset that allows her to perform in big games. Even when she is making mistakes she is able to just battle back confidently, and her shot is beautiful. Those are all things that just add so much value to our team, and she is a great teammate. She is definitely playing her role.

Q: The rest of your supporting cast is important to your success, too, primarily Morgan Ebel, Rose Wille and Maleah Scott. I know you probably want to talk about them, too, but in the interests of brevity we’ll stick with the starters in our conversation because we need to talk about Hopkins and I don’t want to run out of time. Obviously, there are very few games that Hopkins goes into where we think that they might not win. This is one of those games. How do you feel about it in the big picture, about the opportunity, the game and what it means?

A: In terms of the big picture, if you look at where we were five years ago, I would never have scheduled this game. As a whole, as a program and how we’ve evolved, this is a huge opportunity for our kids. I absolutely believe we can win. I will not be surprised if we win because I have confidence in my kids. I know their talent and ability. I know they have put together games before where maybe we weren’t supposed to win and we’ve done it. And I just know that they are gamers, they’re going to get up for the big games. Having Hopkins at home is an advantage for us, too. I think we’re going to have good fan support.

I like the fact that right now we know we belong and that’s how we play and that’s how we act. This game for us is just another game. We’re not preparing any differently than we normally would, and I think they are going to rise to the challenge. That doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be tough. I mean, Hopkins is a phenomenal team. They have my utmost respect. It’s going to be fun to see how our team does now that we aren’t young anymore – he we compose ourselves, how we stay poised, how we play together as a team and not get rattled. That’s where you want to see your team grow. I have already seen that from our kids in the first three games. I think it’s great for Farmington basketball and it’s going to be a fun game. Our kids deserve this. They’re ready, and I think it’s going to be a fun challenge.

Top photo: Farmington’s Sophie Hart (middle) and Paige Kindseth (right) were interviewed by broadcaster Mike Peden following Saturday’s win over Stillwater. (Photo courtesy of  TSB Television)