Chaska won 20 games a season ago, taking a big step from a season before when the Hawks girls basketball team was five games under .500.
People took notice of Chaska in 2018-19. They saw them beat a Farmington squad that was undefeated at the time. They saw the makings of a special future in the Hawks program.
That's why Chaska starts the season ranked No. 8 in Class 4A. Most view Chaska and Eden Prairie as the teams to beat in Section 2-4A.
"I'm super excited to get this season going," Chaska's Kaylee Van Eps said. "Everyone has been working hard and they're just ready to get this thing going."
"We have a great group of girls that worked hard all summer. These girls want to do something special together," Chaska's Mallory Heyer said.
Van Eps, a junior, and Heyer, a sophomore, are the new leaders of the team. Following in the footsteps of a 2019 senior class that did all the little things.
Heyer averaged more than 16 points per game, netting 35 in the season opener last November. Plenty of college coaches will be in the gym to see the Hawks forward this season.
Heyer dominated down the stretch in volleyball, helping Chaska to a runner-up section finish. Now she's ready to take the Hawks one step farther on the basketball court.
"I didn't want a break. I wanted to jump right into basketball. This is where it's at. This is what we worked for. I've been waiting for this," Heyer said.
Van Eps has been a leader for Chaska since eighth grade, averaging double digits in scoring the last two seasons. She netted 10 or more points 18 times last season, four times more than 20 points.
Van Eps has a complete game with the ability to shoot and score on the drive, and on the defensive end of the court guard the opponent's top player.
"Right now, we're all combining as a team, getting the connection, getting the communication part figured out. That's going to be big in the long run. Getting that started with now is only going to help us later on," Van Eps said.
Chaska will start junior guards Kelsey Willems and Kayla Hendrickson as well as freshman point guard Kennedy Sanders, who played large minutes last season, averaging more than six points per game.
A quick, high-pace flow of the action is what Chaska wants to be about.
"We have a lot of new girls, a lot of girls in new roles. These girls are ready to step up. Do big things for the team," Heyer said.
"The positive energy and attitude of this group is what excites me to coach this team. They are fun group of ladies that play for each other and have a great competitive spirit about them," Chaska coach Tara Seifert said.
Chaska starts the season with a pair of ranked teams in Class 3A No. 3 Simley at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23 in the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic at Hopkins High School, and Class 4A No. 2 Wayzata in the home opener Tuesday, Nov. 26.
Games against Section 2-4A opponents Shakopee, Edina and Minnetonka, all on the road, and a match-up with Eden Prairie at home Dec. 13, will all be early-season tests.
"Coach (Tara Seifert) always gives us a tough non-conference schedule. I think that will push us, make us even better for conference and the playoffs. We're seeing good things from Kayla and Kelsey. They're really stepping up as captains. We expect them to fill in the roles we lost from last season," Van Eps said.
"I'm excited about the athleticism and strong work ethic of our Chaska team this season. We will be battle tested early in the season as we play a number of ranked opponents in our December non-conference schedule," Seifert said. "We expect to play an uptempo style of basketball with strong pressure on the defensive end of the court. We graduated a talented senior class last season so we will have a number of new faces on the court that will gain confidence with playing time throughout the season."
Arthur Crutch's purpose as a coach is to make young athletes responsible and reliable with integrity and respect for others. To set athletes up to be great young adults on and off the court and to be an impact in the community and make a difference.
Hired during the off-season to become the Chanhassen girls basketball program's second head coach, replacing Angie Kissock after her 10 years, Crutch quickly found a tight-knit group. A team with a ton of established chemistry.
A team ready to work to achieve bigger goals in 2019-20.
"The team chemistry and togetherness. I made it a point this summer to preach family and these young ladies from the varsity to the ninth grade team took it in," said Crutch, who coached formerly at Legacy Christian. "The sophomores that played varsity last year are a year older and more mature. I’m excited for the unknown and being surprised by this team."
The known is four returning starters led by sophomore Callin Hake, who averaged 20 points per game a season ago.
Senior Julia Gronholz (10.8 points per game), senior Tori Tollefson (9.4 ppg) and sophomore Madison Hicks (9.0 ppg) give the Storm proven scorers on the floor.
"Tori is a great leader and will be my coach on the floor; she’s a tough kid who can take it to the basket and shoot. Julia’s inside out game will surprise teams; she’s better than what I saw on film last year, great basketball IQ; Callin is ranked in the top ten in the state for the class of 2022; she has a great all-around game, she can beat you in many fashions. Madi is a pure shooter and also has a great basketball IQ. All of them can handle the ball and all play great defense," Crutch said.
Chanhassen returns as well juniors Ella Brastad and Taylor Laube, and sophomores Mackenzie Sapp and Macy Sweetser.
"Our strengths will be our team speed and shooting. Our defense will get better as the season goes on," the head coach said.
Chanhassen opens the season on Friday, Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. at Champlin Park. The home opener is Tuesday, Nov. 26 versus Edina.
"Our first few games of the season are against some really good teams so we will see what we are made of right away. I believe we will shock some that wanted to play us because of our record last year," Crutch said.
Starting the 2018-19 season with five wins in seven games, despite a youthful roster, Minnetonka was finding success. But when you play the schedule of the Skippers, youth can be exposed.
Minnetonka finished with a 9-17 a year removed from a state tournament appearance.
A year of growth, the loss of just three seniors, 25 of 27 starts coming from Blake Greer, and the Skippers look for an improved record in 2019-20.
"I am most excited to get the season going to see how the off-season work has paid off. Success isn’t measured in merely wins and losses, but in the individual and team improvements we see as coaches. This group has worked hard, they have excellent chemistry, and they are flat out great kids. As coaches we love working with this group!" Minnetonka head coach Leah Dasovich said.
Minnetonka returns three of the team's top four scorers including inside threats Sophie Haydon and Piper Terry, both juniors.
Haydon got to the free-throw line a team-high 82 times last season. She averaged eight rebounds a game, converting 42 percent of her shots.
"Size and athleticism around the basket. She has worked on her offensive diversity in the off-season, finding the ability to score both at the rim and away from the basket," Dasovich said. "As always, she is a defensive necessity to our rim protection."
Terry scored in double digits in seven of the first nine games, topping 10 points just twice over the final 17 contests.
"Over the summer, Piper has really worked on her consistency on the offensive end. Her outside shot is much improved and she is able to get to the rim in opportune moments. Piper is our most active on-ball defender, which helps our defense go," Dasovich said.
Minnetonka's offense runs through sophomore point guard Desiree Ware, one of eight underclassmen including two eighth graders, in the varsity/JV roster. Ware averaged 10 points, converting 71 percent of her free throws and 37 percent of her 3-point shots in her first season with the Skippers.
"One of the most dynamic guards in the state, Des will be smarter and more prepared to lead a Lake Conference team this season. She has grown tremendously in her patience and ability to see the floor, while working to make her teammates better," the Skippers coach said.
Minnetonka, which opens the season against Andover in the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic at Hopkins High School at 3:15 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23, has a schedule that includes eight of the top 10 teams in Class 4A in addition to Class 2A Fergus Falls.
"It’s no secret we play a tough schedule, if not the toughest schedule in the state. We see Hopkins, Eden Prairie, Wayzata, and now St. Michael-Albertville twice. Chaska, Lakeville North, Maple Grove and Park Center. This is not an easy run, but it will definitely test what we are worth, and I wouldn’t have it any other way as a Lake Conference school," the coach said.
Night in and night out, Southwest Christian was competitive in 2018-19 because they played good defense, rebounded the basketball and made free throws at a high rate.
Stars head coach Bill Piwnica will lean on another part of the game with this year's roster make-up. A much smaller one with the team's second-leading scorer Brenna Krommendyk graduating.
"This team is much different than last year. With less size, we will need to take advantage of our speed and quickness. These players have a strong work ethic and a team spirit second to none," Piwnica said.
Four-year starter and captain Lily Schwen led the Stars last season, averaging 12.5 points per game. She was second on the team in 3-pointers made (20) and first in assists and steals.
"Lily brings strong leadership, quickness, and heart to every game. She gives 100 percent effort 100 percent of the time," said Piwnica of Schwen, an all-conference and top-10 league leader in scoring, assists and steals last season.
Freshman guard Chloe Brunsberg, Southwest Christian's first player off the bench last season, is expected to do big things in 2019-20. She netted a career-high 14 points in a playoff win over Blake School.
"Chloe is an offensive threat whenever she has the ball in her hands. She has high basketball IQ and mad passion for the game," Piwnica said.
The Stars coach said seven returning juniors with varsity experience, including Greta and Hannah Schwarz, will see increased minutes.
Returning starting guard and senior captain Lauren Jones, team leader with 47 made 3-pointers last season, is coming off a foot surgery this fall and is working her way back onto the court.
Southwest Christian opens play on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 7:15 p.m. against Minnesota River Conference opponent Belle Plaine at home.
HOLY FAMILY CATHOLIC
Gone from a Class AA State Consolation championship team are five seniors that averaged 40 points per game, the next batch of Holy Family Catholic girls are ready to take the court.
The Fire, coming off a 25-6 record, have two upperclassmen on the roster in captains Abbey Fink and Grace Elander (10 points per game).
Sophomore Nicole Bowlin (6.6 ppg) has been a varsity mainstay for two years, first as an eighth grader with Chanhassen and last season as a freshman as the first player off the bench for Holy Family Catholic.
"Nicole is another year older and she will finally be the main point guard. Her ability to make shots for herself and teammates will be large for us. Look for her to attack more this year," Holy Family Catholic head coach Adrian Turner said. "Grace is primed to take over a much bigger role in the offense. Defensively she can guard 1-5 positions and that is what we need from her."
Sophomores Reagan Cizek and Lucy Hertel, and eighth grader Sophia Zay are also expected to log large minutes for the Fire.
"Lucy is a high energy player that can do it all! She's a strong kid that can play all around the floor as well. Her ability to push the ball will be big as well as rebound," the coach added.
"This year we will rely on truly getting after other teams with pace. If we get the game going how we like, we should be able to make people uncomfortable on both ends," Turner said. "We have a lot of guards, so leaning on them to make plays for each other will be huge. Our schedule has a few big games for us this year. We are in a few tournaments (St. Thomas, St. Cloud Granite City Classic, Community Clash, MLK at St. Kate's)."
What excites Turner is the potential for growth with this group. He saw flashes of what was to come last season in limited duty. Now those girls will get a full-time opportunity to leave their mark.
"The growth we will make from now to the end season will be fun to watch. Last year we had vets all over; this year we flipped the script. Our youngsters play on top AAU teams in the area. They just don't have varsity experience yet. I like fast, tough teams, and I believe I have one this year. We want to play some possession-less basketball and that should be fun to watch," Turner said.
Holy Family Catholic opened the season on Tuesday, Nov. 26 at home against Heritage Christian.