It has been eight months since Maple Grove girls basketball last took the floor, losing to St. Michael-Albertville in the Section 8AAAA semifinals. In that time, the Crimson lost several key senior contributors but also retained many important players from last year’s squad.
Some of the returning athletes for head coach Mark Cook and the Crimson include junior guard Kennedy Klick, freshman guard Jordan Ode, sophomore wing Claire Stern, senior guard Kyla Overskei, and senior guard Ari Gordon.
Other contributors that Cook expects to play a role in the 2021-22 team include junior wing Audrey Kormann, senior guard Kara Hoag, sophomore guard Ava Cossette, senior wing Emma Kanz, and senior guard Kyla Nygaard. Cook thinks one of the assets of this team is their depth. He thinks anywhere from 10-12 girls could play varsity minutes at any given moment.
“We have a talented group of kids that work hard,” Cook said. “We have high expectations but we have a lot of work to do.”
Along with a new roster, the Crimson have also benefited from a new preseason environment in 2021, with fewer restrictions than last year’s pandemic-affected season. In 2020, pods of a few girls were required during practices.
Now, there are no restrictions on practices, and the team can use the locker room and ride the same bus to and from games. They also had the opportunity to scrimmage other teams in the preseason, most notably perennial contenders Hopkins.
“We want to play good teams,” Cook said. “We are intentional to schedule good competition early in the year, which challenges us to get better.”
The 2021-22 journey began with a contest at Wayzata High School against the Trojans Nov. 30. Led by senior guard and University of Minnesota commit Mara Braun’s 37 points, the Trojans defeated the Crimson 79-66 to open the season. Overskei led Maple Grove with 16 points, followed by Klick with 15 and Cossette and Ode with 12.
Then Dec. 2, the Crimson hosted the Eden Prairie Eagles (1-0 record) for their home opener. After going back and forth for most of the game, the Eagles made a late charge and grabbed a commanding hold of the contest en route to a 76-61 victory.
All game, Maple Grove was bothered by Eden Prairie’s full-court press, which forced several turnovers leading to fastbreak points. But early on, the Crimson weathered the storm thanks to efficient offense and on defensive stops, not allowing the Eagles to set up their pressing defense.
By halftime, the score stood even at 32-32. It remained all square at 50-50, but with less than seven minutes remaining in the game, the Eagles, led by senior forward and University of Minnesota commit Nia Holloway, started to break away from the Crimson.
Suddenly, Eden Prairie held a 65-54 lead with just under five minutes remaining, and even though Maple Grove cut it to 65-59, the Eagles were just too much and secured a 76-61 victory. Overskei led the Crimson with 17 points, followed by Klick (13), Ode (12), and Kormann (11).
Finally, Dec. 4, the Crimson played Minnetonka (4-0), where the Skippers jumped out to a big halftime lead and didn’t look back en route to a 76-64 victory. Gordon led Maple Grove with 10 points, who started the regular season with a record of 0-3 against three tough non-conference opponents.
In a long season, Cook stresses the importance of improving day by day and, though the results might not be immediate, trust the work his girls put forth.
“I tell the team we can control our attitudes and effort but we can’t necessarily control the outcome,” Cook said. “We try real hard to focus on what’s in front of us. What can we do to get better at this game or this practice? We want to be a better basketball team each week and I hope we’re playing our best basketball in March.”
He continued, “You don’t win conference and section titles in November. We have a lot of skill and deep talent on the roster. If this team can come together and put the team in front of the individual, this team has the potential to be really good.”
Then hosts Shakopee Thursday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m., and concludes the week traveling to Armstrong Friday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m.