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 Kneepkens Gianna Kneepkens 5'11" | CG Duluth Marshall | 2021 State #86 Nation MN in Duluth to Adalia McKenzie Adalia McKenzie 5'10" | CG Park Center | 2021 State #39 Nation MN at Park Center to newcomer Tori Oehrlein Tori Oehrlein 5'8" | CG Crosby-Ironton | 2026 MN 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 Lockett Kiani Lockett 5'9" | PG Minnetonka | 2022 State MN , 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 Dasovich Emma Dasovich 6'1" | PF Minnetonka | 2024 State MN 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 Ware Desiree Ware 5'6" | CG Minnetonka | 2022 State MN , a field goal and two free throws from Sophie Haydon Sophie Haydon 6'2" | PF Minnetonka | 2021 State MN , a nice runner by 6’1 senior Molly Oehme and a slippery bucket by freshman Tori McKinney Tori McKinney 5'8" | CG Minnetonka | 2024 State MN . 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 Runyon Ella Runyon 5'11" | CG Hill-Murray | 2022 State MN and senior Lilli Mackley Lilli Mackley 5'11" | CG Hill-Murray | 2021 State MN (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 Kneepkens Gianna Kneepkens 5'11" | CG Duluth Marshall | 2021 State #86 Nation MN 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 Oehrlein Tori Oehrlein 5'8" | CG Crosby-Ironton | 2026 MN 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 McKenzie Adalia McKenzie 5'10" | CG Park Center | 2021 State #39 Nation MN , 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 Ntambwe Jenny Ntambwe 6'1" | PF Coon Rapids | 2022 State MN , who is poised to be one of the breakout players of this season, had 24 for Coon Rapids while senior Nicole Post Nicole Post 6'3" | C Coon Rapids | 2021 State MN (Gustavus) had 17.

Senior Caiya Wulf Caiya Wulf 6'0" | PF Edina | 2021 State MN 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 Murphy Allie Murphy 5'10" | SG Edina | 2021 State MN (Pomona-Pitzer) and Ella Campbell Ella Campbell 5'10" | CG Edina | 2022 State MN had 14 each for the Hornets. And by the way, since when does defensive-minded Edina put up 93?!

Junior Ally Schultz Ally Schultz 6'0" | CG Lakeville South | 2022 State MN 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 Ohnstad Finley Ohnstad 6'0" | SG Lakeville South | 2024 State MN . Apple Valley was led by unsigned senior guard Chyna Young Chyna Young 5'7" | SG Apple Valley | 2021 State MN with 24.

Top-50 senior Ellie Hasz Ellie Hasz 6'0" | SF Pine City | 2021 State MN 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 Lahti Sophie Lahti 6'1" | SF Pine City | 2023 State MN had 16 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, and 6 steals for Pine City.

Senior Annie Feine Annie Feine 6'0" | PF Andover | 2021 State MN (UW-River Falls) scored 20 points and junior Jersey Castillo Jersey Castillo 5'8" | CG Andover | 2022 State MN had 19 to lead Andover to a 77-70 win over Blaine. Unsigned senior Madison Hoehne Madison Hoehne 6'0" | SF Blaine | 2021 State MN topped the charts for Blaine  with 19.

Minnesota commit Mallory Heyer Mallory Heyer 6'2" | PF Chaska | 2022 State #36 Nation MN led the way for Chaska with 20 points in the Hawks 71-31 defeat of Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Top 5 sophomore Kennedy Sanders Kennedy Sanders 5'8" | CG Chaska | 2023 State MN and underappreciated junior Kendall Karrmann Kendall Karrmann 6'1" | SF Chaska | 2022 State MN had 10 apiece for Chaska while Olivia Olson Olivia Olson 6'1" | CG Benilde-SM | 2024 State MN , the #1-rated prospect in the class of 2024, scored 11 for Benilde.

The #55-rated sophomore in the state Chloe Brunsberg Chloe Brunsberg 5'11" | SF Southwest Christian | 2023 State MN put up 28 points in Southwest Christian’s 69-41 win over LeSueur-Henderson.

North Dakota commit Jodi Anderson Jodi Anderson 5'11" | CG Centennial | 2021 State MN scored 21 while her fellow senior Jenna Guyer Jenna Guyer 6'2" | C Centennial | 2021 State MN (Green Bay) added 10 as Centennial scored a 59-49 win over Spring Lake Park. Madi Ngene Madi Ngene 5'9" | PF Spring Lake Park | 2021 State MN had 19 to lead the Panthers, who also received 14 from Macy Smith Macy Smith 5'10" | CG Spring Lake Park | 2021 State MN (Cal State Northridge) and a dozen from Kylie Diaz Kylie Diaz 6'0" | PF Spring Lake Park | 2023 State MN .

Sydney Pelzer Sydney Pelzer 5'9" | SF Concordia | 2021 MN set the standard with 24 points in Concordia Academy’s 78-21 pasting of St. Croix Prep. Her fellow seniors Grace Landvik Grace Landvik 5'8" | CG Concordia | 2021 State MN and Ivane Tensaie Ivane Tensaie 5'7" | CG Concordia | 2021 State MN (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 Hart Sophie Hart 6'4" | C Farmington | 2021 State #44 Nation MN (North Carolina State) had 13 points, Peyton Blandin Peyton Blandin 5'8" | SG Farmington | 2021 State MN (SMSU) had 12 and Paige Kindseth Paige Kindseth 5'10" | CG Farmington | 2021 State MN (Presbyterian) scored 10.

St. Thomas commit Jordyn Lamker Jordyn Lamker 6'0" | SF Maple Grove | 2021 State MN 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 Klick Kennedy Klick 5'11" | CG Maple Grove | 2023 State MN , a transfer from DeLaSalle, scored 13 in her Maple Grove debut while senior guard Kylie Baranick Kylie Baranick 5'4" | CG Maple Grove | 2021 State MN had 12. Junior Hannah Herzig Hannah Herzig 6'0" | CG Totino Grace | 2022 State MN , who transferred from Centennial, recorded 26 on behalf of the Eagles.

Junior Ellie Buzzelle Ellie Buzzelle 5'9" | SG Rogers | 2022 State #60 Nation MN (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 Bates Alicia Bates 5'6" | CG Champlin Park | 2022 State MN had 13 for CP while Amelia Valentino Amelia Valentino 5'10" | CG Champlin Park | 2022 State MN 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 gmachoops@gmail.com with the info by 11 p.m. on game nights. Thank you!

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