Posted On: 02/5/20 3:52 PM

If Karley Motschenbacher was from Minnetonka or Stillwater or Maple Grove, everyone and their dog would know her name. Some might even be able to spell it. But she isn’t. So they don’t. And they can’t – at least not without looking it up. Twice. But Karley is that good. She showed it on Saturday at the Heart O’ Lakes Showcase in Moorhead where the Park Christian senior turned in a dominant performance exceeding that of the 150 or so others who took to the floor in eight varsity games. As a result, Motschenbacher is our Prep Girls Hoops showcase Most Valuable Player.

The showcase, which used to be held across the Red River at the Fargo Civic Center, featured seven teams from the Heart O’ Lakes Conference, including 20-0 Pelican Rapids, Hawley, Perham, Breckenridge, Frazee, Barnesville and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton. Non-conference participants included 19-1 Henning, Park Christian, Staples-Motley, Crookston, East Grand Forks, Wadena-Deer Creek, Lake Park-Audubon, Mahnomen-Waubun and host Moorhead.

There were a couple of nail-biters, a clunker or two and a lot of fine individual performances. For us it was an opportunity to see 14 teams for the first time this season and get a look at numerous players who we were aware of, or had seen on video, but hadn’t watched in person. The first game began on time at 9:30 a.m. The last one ended behind schedule after 10 p.m. It was a long day but well worth the trip, particularly since we had the opportunity to watch Motschenbacher at the high school level for the first time. She did not disappoint.

“She is better than you think she is”

I first learned about Karley a couple of years ago. Having watched her play AAU ball just once, we weren’t really sure what to make of the then-undersized guard. When the next 2020 rankings came out, Motschenbacher was well down the list, which prompted a call from Dean Haugo. Dean is a former Moorhead coach, now athletic director. He knows his basketball so I took notice when he gently informed me that we were missing the boat on Motschenbacher. At the time she was a member of Dean’s AAU team, an outfit comprised of some of the best players in the region playing a somewhat limited schedule under the North Tartan banner. “She is better than you think she is,” Haugo said. “A lot better.”

Turns out he was right. We watched her more closely in AAU at the next opportunity and she rose in the Prep Girls Hoops rankings to the mid-50s. Saturday was the first time we have seen her play a regular season high school game. To be honest, I was completely blown away. Her current ranking of #55 is low. Way low. Motschenbacher is a standout defender who also knows how to run an offense with poise and precision. She is extremely strong, plays hard every minute and obviously has a very high basketball IQ. She can put the ball in the basket, too, as her 34-point performance against the Barnesville Trojans will attest. Karley made 4 three-pointers and went 6-for-6 at the free throw line. Speaking of scoring, Motschenbacher passed the 2,000-career points plateau in December.

A physical specimen

Karley reminds me a lot of Hannah Hedstrom, who led Minnetonka to the 2016 class 4A state championship and will conclude a decorated college career at Lehigh in a few weeks. Motschenbacher is a complete player with an exceptional feel for the game. Breakdown Sports named her the state’s best on-ball defender and I cannot disagree. Karley is relentless, with quick feet and fast-twitch reflexes that enable her to get a hand on the ball and force steals. She averages about five per game and must have had 10 on Saturday. Even though she has been around a long time, and there are no secrets anymore about what Motschenbacher can do, the A and AA opponents Park Christian faces haven’t been able to stop her.

One thing that stands out immediately about Karley is her physique. Her dad Kurt is the Park Christian coach, and we’re told he runs a very sophisticated, sport- and athlete-specific weight-training program at the school. It shows. Karley is a physical specimen whose muscle development makes it obvious that she has put in the requisite number of reps. And more.

We can laugh about it now, but I remember thinking when I heard about Karley that Park Christian must be in North Dakota, meaning Motschenbacher would be ineligible for our Minnesota rankings. I soon discovered my mistake and assumed it must be a small-town school I was not familiar with. Wrong! Turns out the private institution is smack-dab in the middle of Moorhead. (Note to self: Don’t assume dummy!)

While the rest of the state had no idea a couple of years ago who Karley was, the local Division 2 college was well-informed. That shouldn’t be surprising, I guess, given that MSU-Moorhead is located just a 15-minute walk – it’s literally one mile – from the Park Christian campus. Coach Karla Nelson and the Dragons used that proximity to advantage, making Motschenbacher an early offer. She said, ‘yes’ and became one of the first verbal commitments of the 2020 class. If Motschenbacher was still available today you can be sure that the Division 1 school across the river – that would be North Dakota State – would be all over her.

When Saturday’s event finally wrapped up Dean was kind enough to buy me a late night burger and a cold beverage as we reflected on what Karley had done earlier in the day. Next time he tells me about a player I will most definitely pay closer attention!

Coming up next: Moorhead Showcase All Star Team

Top photo: Park Christian senior Karley Motschenbacher celebrated 2,000 career points with her family in December.