Tigers’ veterans ready to play on short notice

Senior center Sophie Hart is one of the key players returning from Farmington's run to the 2020 state Class 4A girls basketball finals.

Girls basketball team return five who played in state tourney

Having just 10 days to get ready for a season-opening game is far from ideal, but the Farmington girls basketball team is better prepared than most to cope with it.

“I think it will be a lot like last year,” senior guard Paige Kindseth said. “Our team chemistry is awesome. Everybody has been playing together since middle school or elementary school. A lot of us know how each other plays, so if we do what the coaches ask us to do, everything will come together.”

In other words, the Tigers are getting ready to make another run at the state tournament, assuming there is one. Farmington has unfinished business there after reaching the Class 4A finals in 2020 against Hopkins, only to have the game called off because of the pandemic. The team finished 29-2 and received a finalist’s trophy in its first appearance at the state tournament.

The Tigers return this year with five players (Kindseth, center Sophie Hart and guards Peyton Blandin, Maleah Scott and Rose Wille) who started or saw significant minutes during last year’s playoffs. All are seniors except Wille, who’s a junior.

“It’s nice to know your seniors have been through it,” coach Liz Carpentier said. “We’re going to be ready for our first game (Thursday, Jan. 14, at Lakeville North) for sure. Our seniors are definitely ready to pick up where they left off.

“But we are not afraid to go to our bench. We have probably four bench players that are going to emerge and play right off the bat because we’re not in great shape yet, and masks do come into play a little bit, too.”

The coaches will put in a lot of time teaching Farmington’s younger players, but the core group knows the drill. The playbook doesn’t change much for them and timing returns quickly, ingrained by years of repetition.

“Me and (Kindseth) have been playing together forever, so when she gets a rebound I’ll just run up the court and I know I’ll get a nice pass,” Blandin said.

The Tigers’ best game of the 2019-20 season probably was their last, a 78-59 drubbing of St. Michael-Albertville in the Class 4A semifinals at Williams Arena. It also might have been the best game of the season for Hart, who had 21 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists. Hart, who has signed to play at North Carolina State, was rated as the state’s top recruit in the class of 2021 because of her ability to score, rebound, defend and pass.

Kindseth has signed with Presbyterian College, a Division I program in South Carolina, and Blandin will play in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference at Southwest Minnesota State. Kindseth averaged 11.2 points a game last season. Blandin averaged 11.7 and scored 40 points in two state tournament games.

Scott averaged about four points a game off the bench. Wille responded to an expanded role after the Tigers lost starting guard Molly Mogensen to a knee injury, scoring in double figures in three of five postseason games.

Offensively, “the fast break is our thing,” Blandin said. “We like to get the rebound and push the ball up the court.”

The Tigers last year held 13 opponents under 50 points, and Kindseth said she believes this year’s team can do as well or better defensively.

“Defense is one of our stronger suits,” Kindseth said. “We’re long, we’re big and tall, and I’d say that makes playing defense easier for us than it is for smaller teams.”

Farmington did graduate Mogensen, the school’s career scoring leader now playing at Creighton University, and several other seniors who made up last year’s leadership group. This year’s seniors have to develop their own leadership style, Carpentier said.

“Our seniors are more than capable. When you look at the team we’re putting out there, these girls were playing in the state tournament last year,” the coach said. “The big key for us is going to be leadership. We lost a group of seniors that did a lot of things vocally, on the court and off the court. I’m excited to see how this senior group steps up in the leadership category. The basketball will take care of itself.”

With the season delayed almost two months by the pandemic, the Tigers returned to practice Monday grateful they would have a chance to sort out matters such as developing leadership.

“I saw a lot of smiles and just a lot of joy, excitement and energy,” she said. “They wanted to be around each other and socialize, which is a big part of sports. They were thankful. They’re not going to take anything for granted, and you could tell by the way they worked they’re ready to get after it.”

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