Posted On: 01/15/21 11:09 AM
The stars were shining brightly on opening night. Isn’t that how it is supposed to be? From Gianna KneepkensGiannaKneepkens5'11" | CGDuluth Marshall | 2021State#86NationMN in Duluth to Adalia McKenzieAdaliaMcKenzie5'10" | CGPark Center | 2021State#39NationMN at Park Center to newcomer Tori OehrleinToriOehrlein5'8" | CGCrosby-Ironton | 2026MN in Crosby-Ironton, the top players in Minnesota were among the top performers Thursday as the state’s high school basketball season made its virus-delayed debut. We were on hand at Minnetonka to witness a virtuoso performance by top-10 junior Kiani LockettKianiLockett5'9" | PGMinnetonka | 2022StateMN, who was nothing short of stunning in her Skippers debut.
Lockett dominated from start to finish, putting up 17 points and mastering every phase of the game as the Skippers scored a decisive 69-46 victory over the Hill-Murray Pioneers. Minnetonka coach Leah Dasovich was effusive afterward in her praise of Lockett, who transferred over the summer from DeLaSalle. “She changes the whole landscape of the game. We had all of the pieces before but ultimately she makes everybody else around her better,” said the coach. “Her ability to see the floor in the transition game just allows everything to open up. I think our bigs run the floor well and she is always looking up to get them the ball and that’s really hard to defend.”
Indeed. Hill-Murray scored a couple of quick buckets in the first 18 seconds of the game prior to Minnetonka freshman Emma DasovichEmmaDasovich6'1" | PFMinnetonka | 2024StateMN putting her team on the board before one minute had elapsed. That sparked a 20-2 run for the Skippers that included three triples from Lockett, a corner three from Desiree WareDesireeWare5'6" | CGMinnetonka | 2022StateMN, a field goal and two free throws from Sophie HaydonSophieHaydon6'2" | PFMinnetonka | 2021StateMN, a nice runner by 6’1 senior Molly Oehme and a slippery bucket by freshman Tori McKinneyToriMcKinney5'8" | CGMinnetonka | 2024StateMN. It was all too much for Hill-Murray.
The lead stretched to 18 by the six-minute mark and Minnetonka was up 35-14 at the half. It was Lockett who led the way.
“The thing that I think is impressive about Kiani is she has dropped in here and has led in her way from the get-go,” Dasovich said. “We have this veteran senior group and we have Des (Ware) – they are all great leaders and they’re all captain-worthy and they all have different leadership styles – but for Kiani to come in as a newbie and do it? They are giving her the respect she deserves and she is confident in her game to do that.”
It’s true that Lockett has no shortage of self-belief. Prior to the game I asked in jest if she was nervous for her first game. “Never!” she replied forcefully. She proved it all night long.
In the second half the Skippers stretched the margin to as much as 31, but the Pioneers closed the gap thanks to a pair of strong performances by junior Ella RunyonEllaRunyon5'11" | CGHill-Murray | 2022StateMN and senior Lilli MackleyLilliMackley5'11" | CGHill-Murray | 2021StateMN (Dakota State). Runyon had 15 points in the half, 19 overall. Mackley had 12 in the second half, 16 overall.
We should also mention Minnetonka’s bench, which was excellent. Seniors Oehme, Ellah Durkee and Ella Murray were terrific. Durkee started every game last year before stepping aside for Lockett this season. She is consistent, can defend all five positions and play the 1 through 4 spots. “She is sort of the glue kid when she comes in,” Dasovich said. Freshman point guard McKinney’s growth – six inches in height, immeasurable progress in execution – was a big factor for the Skippers. “Oh my, she played great!,” said the coach. “She is just so calm and unflappable.”
I asked Dasovich what kind of grade she would give her team on opening night? “In a traditional year it might not be the same grade but in this year, all things considered, I’ll give us a good B,” she said. “I’d like to give us an A+ just to be here and everything that we have been dealing with, but there are obviously things to work on.”
AROUND THE STATE
Given what we have all been through in the 10 months since the 2019-20 high school basketball season came to a screeching halt during the state tournament, it would only be right for opening night to have some glitches. It was Mother Nature who went viral this time as she issued a snowy blast across Southern Minnesota that resulted in the cancelation or postponement of more than a dozen games. It looks like more than 60 games were completed, however, and there were some terrific individual performances.
Highlighting the best individual offensive performers
Opening night. Closing night. Pretty much any night. You can almost always count on Gianna KneepkensGiannaKneepkens5'11" | CGDuluth Marshall | 2021State#86NationMN to put the ball in the basket. It should not come as a surprise then that the Duluth Marshall senior, who is the #5-ranked prospect in the Prep Girls Hoops class of 2021, should lead the way on the first night of high school basketball in Minnesota. Kneepkens, who has committed to the University of Utah, scored 38 points on Thursday in Marshall’s 84-39 win over Duluth Denfeld. Kneepkens went 12-for-16 from the field with 13 rebounds, 8 assists and 7 steals. Hers wasn’t the only notable performance for the Hilltoppers as 7th grader Ava Meirotto had 14 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals in her debut while senior Merlea Mrozek had 13 points.
While you have a good idea what to expect on opening night from a veteran like Kneepkens, the same does not hold true for newcomers who are playing varsity for the first time. That’s especially true when it comes to newcomers who are in the 7th grade. Of course Maddyn Greenway of Providence Academy and Tori OehrleinToriOehrlein5'8" | CGCrosby-Ironton | 2026MN of Crosby-Ironton are no ordinary 7th graders. Greenway opened her high school tenure Thursday with a 20-point performance in PA’s drubbing of Trinity School. Oehrlein had 18 points and 23 rebounds (yes, 23!) as the Rangers defeated Detroit Lakes in overtime by a score of 67-63.
Here are some other notable performances from opening night:
Adalia McKenzieAdaliaMcKenzie5'10" | CGPark Center | 2021State#39NationMN, the #1 prospect in the senior class who is committed to Illinois, is another outstanding point producer. No surprise then that she put up 32 in Park Center’s 77-67 win over Coon Rapids. Junior Jenny NtambweJennyNtambwe6'1" | PFCoon Rapids | 2022StateMN, who is poised to be one of the breakout players of this season, had 24 for Coon Rapids while senior Nicole PostNicolePost6'3" | CCoon Rapids | 2021StateMN (Gustavus) had 17.
Senior Caiya WulfCaiyaWulf6'0" | PFEdina | 2021StateMN made the most of her return to the lineup after a long-term knee injury by scoring 18 points in Edina’s 93-49 win over Bloomington Jefferson. Allie MurphyAllieMurphy5'10" | SGEdina | 2021StateMN (Pomona-Pitzer) and Ella CampbellEllaCampbell5'10" | CGEdina | 2022StateMN had 14 each for the Hornets. And by the way, since when does defensive-minded Edina put up 93?!
Junior Ally SchultzAllySchultz6'0" | CGLakeville South | 2022StateMN picked right up where she left off 10 months ago as Lakeville South beat Apple Valley 62-48. Schultz, one of the state’s premier shooters, made 8 threes for 24 points for the Cougars, who had 13 from top-5 freshman Finley OhnstadFinleyOhnstad6'0" | SGLakeville South | 2024StateMN. Apple Valley was led by unsigned senior guard Chyna YoungChynaYoung5'7" | SGApple Valley | 2021StateMN with 24.
Top-50 senior Ellie HaszEllieHasz6'0" | SFPine City | 2021StateMN of Pine City was also raining threes on Thursday. The University of Mary commit made 6 triples and scored 28 points to lead the Dragons to an 81-30 win over Onamia. Top-20 sophomore Sophie LahtiSophieLahti6'1" | SFPine City | 2023StateMN had 16 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, and 6 steals for Pine City.
Senior Annie FeineAnnieFeine6'0" | PFAndover | 2021StateMN (UW-River Falls) scored 20 points and junior Jersey CastilloJerseyCastillo5'8" | CGAndover | 2022StateMN had 19 to lead Andover to a 77-70 win over Blaine. Unsigned senior Madison HoehneMadisonHoehne6'0" | SFBlaine | 2021StateMN topped the charts for Blaine with 19.
Minnesota commit Mallory HeyerMalloryHeyer6'2" | PFChaska | 2022State#36NationMN led the way for Chaska with 20 points in the Hawks 71-31 defeat of Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Top 5 sophomore Kennedy SandersKennedySanders5'8" | CGChaska | 2023StateMN and underappreciated junior Kendall KarmannKendallKarmann6'1" | SFChaska | 2022StateMN had 10 apiece for Chaska while Olivia OlsonOliviaOlson6'1" | CGBenilde-SM | 2024StateMN, the #1-rated prospect in the class of 2024, scored 11 for Benilde.
The #55-rated sophomore in the state Chloe BrunsbergChloeBrunsberg5'11" | SFSouthwest Christian | 2023StateMN put up 28 points in Southwest Christian’s 69-41 win over LeSueur-Henderson.
North Dakota commit Jodi AndersonJodiAnderson5'11" | CGCentennial | 2021StateMN scored 21 while her fellow senior Jenna GuyerJennaGuyer6'2" | CCentennial | 2021StateMN (Green Bay) added 10 as Centennial scored a 59-49 win over Spring Lake Park. Madi NgeneMadiNgene5'9" | PFSpring Lake Park | 2021StateMN had 19 to lead the Panthers, who also received 14 from Macy SmithMacySmith5'10" | CGSpring Lake Park | 2021StateMN (Cal State Northridge) and a dozen from Kylie DiazKylieDiaz6'0" | PFSpring Lake Park | 2023StateMN.
Sydney PelzerSydneyPelzer5'9" | SFConcordia | 2021MN set the standard with 24 points in Concordia Academy’s 78-21 pasting of St. Croix Prep. Her fellow seniors Grace LandvikGraceLandvik5'8" | CGConcordia | 2021StateMN and Ivane TensaieIvaneTensaie5'7" | CGConcordia | 2021StateMN (ND Science) had 20 and 16 points respectively.
Farmington took the first steps in its quest for a state tournament berth with a 61-35 win over Lakeville North. A balanced attack which is what you can expect from the Tigers all season and they had it on opening night as #2 senior Sophie HartSophieHart6'4" | CFarmington | 2021State#44NationMN (North Carolina State) had 13 points, Peyton BlandinPeytonBlandin5'8" | SGFarmington | 2021StateMN (SMSU) had 12 and Paige KindsethPaigeKindseth5'10" | CGFarmington | 2021StateMN (Presbyterian) scored 10.
St. Thomas commit Jordyn LamkerJordynLamker6'0" | SFMaple Grove | 2021StateMN led the way for Maple Grove on Thursday night, scoring 22 points in the Crimson’s 78-52 defeat of Totino-Grace. Top-10 sophomore Kennedy KlickKennedyKlick5'11" | CGRoseville | 2023StateMN, a transfer from DeLaSalle, scored 13 in her Maple Grove debut while senior guard Kylie BaranickKylieBaranick5'4" | CGMaple Grove | 2021StateMN had 12. Junior Hannah HerzigHannahHerzig6'0" | CGTotino Grace | 2022StateMN, who transferred from Centennial, recorded 26 on behalf of the Eagles.
Junior Ellie BuzzelleEllieBuzzelle5'9" | SGRogers | 2022State#60NationMN (Grand Canyon) had 21 points on opening night for Rogers but it wasn’t quite enough as her team lost a nail-biter to Champlin Park by a score of 53-51. Hopkins transfer Alicia BatesAliciaBates5'6" | CGChamplin Park | 2022StateMN had 13 for CP while Amelia ValentinoAmeliaValentino5'10" | CGChamplin Park | 2022StateMN added 11.
By the way, if you don’t see your top performer’s number in the above list that’s most likely because the info did not get posted on mngirlsbasketballhub.com, which is our usual go-to source for individual point production. A couple of coaches let us know that they were having trouble entering the data. When that happens please have someone DM me via Twitter (@gmachoops) or email firstname.lastname@example.org with the info by 11 p.m. on game nights. Thank you!