Posted On: 12/11/20 6:46 PM

Entering the 2020-21 Minnesota high school girls basketball season, the smart money has to be on Chaska in the Metro West Conference, doesn’t it? Boasting a lineup loaded with high-end college prospects, the Hawks are prohibitive favorites to once again come out on top in the seven-team circuit that includes St. Louis Park, Robbinsdale Cooper, Chanhassen, Bloomington Jefferson, Bloomington Kennedy and Benilde-St. Margaret’s. In a COVID-era world, however, we have learned that anything and everything is possible. If there are positive tests, and lineups get altered, who knows what might happen. If it goes somewhat according to form, here is the Metro West as we see it.

THE FAVORITE

Chaska went 12-0 in conference play last season, won 24 games overall, and missed out on a berth in the state tournament by a whisker. There is no reason why the Hawks can’t be just as good or better this time around. Every crucial player is back. The team has talent, leadership and now they have experience. The Hawks are led by three strong Division I prospects. Senior Kaylee Van EpsKayleeVan Eps5'11" | SFChaska | 2021StateMN is the #7-rated prospect in the class of 2021 and will play at Lehigh next season. Forward Mallory HeyerMalloryHeyer6'2" | PFChaska | 2022State#36NationMN, who averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds per game as a sophomore, is #4 in 2022 and recently committed to the University of Minnesota. Sophomore point guard Kennedy SandersKennedySanders5'8" | CGChaska | 2023StateMN is one of the most exciting talents in the state, rated #4 in the class of 2023 with plenty of college programs in pursuit. That’s a heckuva threesome, but the Hawks lineup continues to impress all the way through.

Senior guard Kelsey WillemsKelseyWillems5'8" | CGChaska | 2021StateMN is one of the best defenders in the state and is a DII commit to Augustana. Sophomore Ashley SchuelkeAshleySchuelke5'10" | SFChaska | 2023StateMN is a versatile top-20 sophomore with size and skill. Senior Kendall KarmannKendallKarmann6'1" | SFChaska | 2022StateMN is a valuable piece, as well. Ditto for Lucy DardisLucyDardis5'7" | CGChaska | 2022MN, Zoe CutlerZoeCutler6'0" | PFChaska | 2022StateMN, and 6’6 backup post Jessica HeirJessicaHeir6'6" | CChaska | 2022StateMN. We haven’t even mentioned 2023 #41 Anna LenzenAnnaLenzen5'9" | CGChaska | 2023StateMN, who is one of the most athletic players in the class and would be a starter in most other places. Add it all up and it’s obvious: the Hawks are loaded. Anything other than top spot will be a disappointment.

THE CONTENDERS

St. Louis Park finished 9-3 a year ago, and just above .500 overall. Coach Arsenio Richardson did lose Shayla MillerShaylaMiller5'10" | SFSt. Louis Park | 2020StateMN and Jordan Turek to graduation but the Orioles return some very strong talent, particularly in the front court. SLP is led by Kendall ColeyKendallColey6'2" | SFSt. Louis Park | 2021State#94NationMN, the #6-rated player in the class of 2021, a nationally-prominent prospect who will play in the Big 10 at Nebraska.  She averaged 16 points and 7 rebounds per game last season. When she’s dialed in and amped up, Coley is as good as anyone. She’s joined by top-25 senior Raegan AlexanderRaeganAlexander5'11" | PFSt. Louis Park | 2021StateMN, a lengthy wing/forward who averaged 17 and 9 and will play DII ball at MSU-Moorhead. They are joined by seniors Faith JohnsonFaithJohnson5'11" | PFSt. Louis Park | 2021MN and Jojo Sheffield as well as Park Center transfer T’Naye GriffinT’NayeGriffin6'0" | PFSt. Louis Park | 2021StateMN. One of the most intriguing players in the St. Louis Park lineup is freshman guard Kiya HegdahlKiyaHegdahl5'7" | PGSt. Louis Park | 2024StateMN, who is coming off a strong summer that earned her the #23 ranking in the class of 2024.

Robbinsdale Cooper finished 8-4 in the Metro West, 19-9 overall. Coached by Raheem Simmons, these Hawks are quick and talented, with some of the most exciting small guards in the state. The squad is also experienced with a core group that won a state championship in class AAA just two years ago. Up front is 6’0 power forward Kierra WheelerKierraWheeler6'1" | PFCooper | 2021StateMN. ‘Meme’ is big, strong, skilled and deceptive. The top-25 senior averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds per game and is a handful for defenders of all sizes and descriptions. She’s joined by a pair of standout senior guards – Andrea TribbleAndreaTribble5'5" | CGCooper | 2021StateMN, who has committed to Seward Community College in Kansas, and University of Jamestown commit Jayla RelifordJaylaReliford5'4" | CGCooper | 2021StateMN. Add to the mix the #7-rated freshman Somah KamaraSomahKamara5'8" | CGCooper | 2024StateMN and talented sophomore Bre FrazierBreFrazier5'7" | SGCooper | 2023StateMN and Cooper has one of the quickest, most-skillful backcourts you’ll find.

ON THE BUBBLE

Chanhassen went 7-5 last year. It’s hard to know where they fit this time around. Losing all-conference forward Julia Gronholz and standout athlete Tori Tollefson (South Dakota State softball) to graduation is a definite factor, and the impact of a coaching change is always an unknown. What we do know is this: Chanhassen has one of the best guards in the entire state in Nebraska commit Callin HakeCallinHake5'8" | PGChanhassen | 2022State#64NationMN. She rose to #7 in the class of 2022 this fall. She averaged nearly 23 points per game last season to go along with 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Hake will do everything possible to propel the Storm forward with a supporting cast of Taylor Laube, Mackenzie SappMackenzieSapp5'7" | CGChanhassen | 2022MN, Ella Brastad, Madi Hicks and top-50 freshman Lauren ArnoldLaurenArnold5'6" | CGChanhassen | 2024StateMN doing their level best to do their share. We’ll see where that gets them.

NOT THIS YEAR

Bloomington Jefferson finished 3-9 last year. They’ll no doubt be led once again by juniors Emily RoachEmilyRoach5'7" | SGBloomington Jefferson | 2022MN and Simone Clay, senior forward Hannah Peterson and sophomores Courtney Anderson, Emma Felt and big Angelina Chapple. The Jaguars will still be young but coach Paul Roach hopes a strong sophomore class is ready to do more this time around.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s is coming off a 2-10 conference campaign. The Red Knights lost elite talent Patience WilliamsPatienceWilliams6'1" | CBenilde SM | 2020StateMN (Southwest Florida) to graduation along with veteran contributor Mackenzie Swann, but they have one of the top young talents in the country in #1 freshman Olivia OlsonOliviaOlson6'1" | CGBenilde-SM | 2024StateMN. She averaged 16 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals last year as an 8th grader! Her 2024 classmate Tyreana RelifordTyreanaReliford5'10" | CGBenilde-SM | 2024StateMN is coming off a breakout summer that earned her the #22 ranking in the class.

Bloomington Kennedy finished 1-11 in the Metro West with one of the youngest lineups around. The Eagles are not without talent, however, and this isn’t coach Quinton Johnson’s first rodeo. Sophomore point guard Ashlee BurchetteAshleeBurchette5'7" | CGBloomington Kennedy | 2023StateMN is a dynamic young talent with terrific handles and nice athleticism who has now been baptized by fire. 5’11 freshman guard Daviyana Singleton-Buchanan is a star in the making and her older sister Samara BuchananSamaraBuchanan5'10" | PFKennedy | 2022StateMN is a steadying influence. Freshman forward Mya Green should also be a factor. The Eagles are going to be better.

TOP TALENT TO WATCH IN THE METRO WEST

Top photo: High-flying Kendall ColeyKendallColey6'2" | SFSt. Louis Park | 2021State#94NationMN of St. Louis Park (#32 in black) is one of the premier players in the Metro West.