Girls’ basketball preview: Familiar faces return to the court for many

Andover returns a strong junior class along with two key seniors in what will be a small, but powerful squad coming off a 12-16 campaign which ended in the section semifinals against Duluth East.

Sisters McKenzie Becker, a senior, and Haydn Becker, a junior, both received All-Northwest Suburban Conference honors.

McKenzie and Olvia Graham are the lone seniors on the squad and will captain the squad. Graham might be an undersized post player (5 foot, 9 inches) but coach Ray Brodeur says she makes up for that with her aggressiveness, “and plays big” and will be looked upon to secure the paint after losing 6-1 post McKensey Miller after she moved to Wisconsin.

McKenzie led the team in scoring last season and Haydn was second on the scoring sheet. Look for juniors Katie Yoder and Madi Hahn to contribute from the perimeter of the floor as they look for a finish among the top-half of the conference.

“We will pressure teams with our defense and run the floor in transition,” Brodeur said. “We will be exciting to watch and have big goals for our team.”

Brodeur has two new coaches on his staff including 2008 Andover graduate Kyle Heber who graduated from Bethel University with a physical education degree and played two years of basketball for the Royals. He will lead the ninth grade A team. Former ninth grade A coach Robb Belschner moves into a varsity assistant role and brings in experience on the defensive side of the ball. He’s worked with the boys’ programs in Osseo and Andover in the past.

Anoka returns most of its core from the past two seasons including six juniors which include Claire Lundberg, Kyrah Fredenburg, Ashley and Amber Bray.

Anoka’s Claire Lundberg will be one of the Tornadoes go-to players this season. Photo by Bill Jones

Each played a role in the 2011 state tournament team along with senior Hailee Gifford who returns as captain with seniors Gabbi Guimont and Courtney Hlavka. Coach James Fassett returns with new assistants including JV coach Scott Antl who was the head coach at PACT Charter school last season and Jason Hofstadt who has experience in the Coon Rapids youth and high school programs in addition to PACT.

Look for the Tornadoes to rebound from a 9-18 record and first round exit from sections in 2011-12.

Blaine ended coach Mike Engelhaupt’s first season with a 6-21 overall record and 5-15 Northwest Suburban Conference mark. As bad as that record looks, the Bengals improved throughout the season, especially the second time through the conference schedule. The Bengals beat Coon Rapids twice, Anoka once and the largest win of the season came against Centennial. Blaine beat the Cougars by four points after a 47-point loss the first time around.

Blaine senior Jenny Chamberlain returns as the point guard and shot 77 percent from the free throw line while fellow senior guard Leah Swanson provide perimeter shooting at a 30 percent clip from beyond the arch. Practice reps will be key to get a very young squad up to speed at the varsity level, according to Engelhaupt.

Coon Rapids
Coon Rapids posted a 13-14 overall record last season and lost in the first round of the playoffs to a very strong Osseo squad after handing the team two of its three regular season losses. The Cardinals return three starters and four key players including senior center Courtney Pasiowitz who has been an inside presence over the last three seasons. Coach Toni Jesinowski believes her effort and hustle in the paint will allow her to put up a double-double each game.

Junior guards Raquel Hawkins, Sara Brnic and Shayla Huffman will be three key contributors if the Cardinals plan to have a winning record and win multiple games in the section tournament.

Hawkins provides floor leadership with the ability to drive to the rim and finish while the key for Brnic is her shooting threat and if she can stay healthy. Huffman is also a strong shooter who can handle the ball and defend. Also watch for senior forward and, top-ranked student in her class, Rachael Sarette to contribute on both ends of the floor.

Look for the Cardinals to push the pace of the game and use its bench more.

“The girls are learning to play together with a different look than we had the past few years,” Jesinowski said. “We are bringing in some inexperienced varsity players to compliment the three returning players.
“The girls are playing with integrity and believe in themselves. Once they see their true potential and we take care of the little things, we believe that big things will happen.”

Legacy Christian Academy
Legacy returns four upperclassmen compared to 10 seventh- through ninth-graders on the roster which makes for a young team with hopes of competing in a strong Minnesota Christian Athletic Association Conference. The Lions nearly upset Southwest Christian in the opening round of sections last season before losing 55-49 in overtime. The Lions posted an 8-19 overall record. Lions head coach Dan Nelson did not respond to requests for this preview.

Spring Lake Park
The Panthers are coming off an 8-8 finish and fifth place finish in the North Suburban Conference 13-14 overall with a first-round exit in sections with a 73-41 loss to Totino-Grace. Panthers coach Lori Thompson did not respond to requests for this preview.

St. Francis
Look for the Saints to be tough to beat this season thanks to senior leadership from guards Nicole Borstner (9.3 points per game) and Emily Larson (6.5 points per game) who earned All- North Suburban Conference Honorable Mention honors last season.

McKenna Morell also is a returning senior guard along with junior forward Taylor Snelling (4.9 rebounds per game and team-high 19 steals) and 6-foot tall sophomore center Ameh Ogbemudia who led team in rebounds averaging five per game and 1.4 blocks per game. Coach Jen Close said despite four underclassmen in the regular rotation, this group is experienced on the varsity floor. “They have the ability to make plays, score and play hard-nose defense on any team,” she said. “All of these underclassmen learned a great deal last season as freshmen and eighth graders having to play varsity at a young age.”

Defense will be key for St. Francis with a lack of size inside. “We need to learn how to defend better inside against taller and more physical post play,” Close said.

Pact/Spectrum will look to erase its memory of a 2-25 season last year as senior captain Shelby Eden returns as the leading scorer and earned all-section and all-conference honors last season.

Coach Lenny Sedlock said his team will be young but more depth should helped improve the number of wins.