Only one hurdle remains in the Hopkins High girls basketball team’s quest for an undefeated regular season, but that hurdle is a big one.
The Royals (25-0) will play Wayzata (24-1) at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, at the Wayzata High gym. Hopkins won the first meeting 69-66 in a well-played game at Hopkins Lindbergh Center. If Wayzata wins on Friday, it will share the title with Hopkins. A win by Hopkins would give the Royals the championship outright.
“All we’re doing it trying to improve every week,” Hopkins head coach Brian Cosgriff said after his team trounced Edina 79-39 in a Lake Conference game Feb. 12 at the Lindbergh Center. “Edina plays hard on every possession, and they’re a well-coached team.”
At one point in the first half, the score was tied 15-15, but then Hopkins turned up the pressure and surged to a 39-20 halftime lead. It was more of the same in the second half with Hopkins outscoring the Hornets 40-19.
The one player who kept Edina somewhat competitive was senior guard Macy Nilsen, who scored 16 points.
Hopkins co-captain Paige Bueckers took the responsibility of guarding Nilsen for most of the game before Nilsen made two three-pointers late in the second half with Bueckers resting on the bench.
“I always like to go against the best player on the other team,” said Bueckers, who was named All-State as a sophomore last year. Bueckers had 19 points in leading a balanced attack against Edina. Six-foot-three ninth-grade forward Maya Nnaji led the Royals with 21 points and senior guard Dlayla Chakolis was in double figures with 13 points.
Ninth-grade guard Amaya Battle added seven points. Also scoring for Hopkins were Kayhla Adams with six, Alayna Contreras with five and Taylor Woodson and Nu Nu Agara with four apiece.
Bueckers is encouraged by the progress her young teammates have made this season. Co-captain Chakolis is the only senior in the starting lineup that also includes juniors Bueckers and Adams and ninth-graders Nnaji and Battle. Eighth-graders Woodson and Agara are often the first two girls off the bench, and ninth-grader Contreras gets her minutes.
“I am proud of our younger girls,” Bueckers said. “They listen and they are coachable. Obviously, we can score. In the playoffs, it has to be defense first. We have to keep working on our help-side rotations.”
If Bueckers sounds like a coach when she analyzes the team, that’s because Cosgriff considers her “a coach on the floor.”
Since this is Bueckers’ fourth season on varsity, she has earned that status, and she will continue to lead the Royals on and off the court in her senior year.
Scary to think about this, but Hopkins should be even better next season.
As for the task at hand - Wayzata on Friday night - the Royals will be facing one of the few teams that has any chance against them.
The Trojans are also a young team, with forward Kallie Theisen and point guard Mimi Schrader as the only seniors. The other starters are junior Annika Stewart at center, sophomore Jenna Johnson at forward and ninth-grader Mara Braun at guard. Jasmine Smiley, who was All-Lake Conference last season, comes off the bench along with Alivia Arnebeck.