Chaska knew things would be tougher this year as the defending state champions. Everyone is trying to beat them. Every night the opponent has that date circled on the calendar.
Hopkins, beaten in the state semifinals last March, their long winning streak snapped, certainly showed it was more than a December game to them. The Royals scored 20 of the first 22 points, led by 21 at halftime, winning 70-45 in front of a large crowd in the Breakdown Tip-Off finale on Dec. 4.
Hopkins didn’t just look to beat the Hawks; they looked to beat them with authority. And they did.
“It definitely was a tough loss. We never thought it was going to be an easy game. We knew what they had coming back,” Chaska senior Kendall Karrmann said. “I think what was most disappointing is if you look at the point differential in the second half versus the first. I think it was something like four points. I just wished we could have played that way in the first half, too.”
Karrmann said it was almost a “good slap in the face.” A game that showed Chaska how much they have to learn, how much growth they need to make, if they have any hope of being in the state championship discussion again.
“If there was any thought that this year was going to go exactly the way last year went, that thought is gone. Having that game early on, I think it was a good thing. It woke us up,” Karrmann said.
Chaska has won six straight games, likely headed to No. 3 in the rankings this week.
While a 10-point win over Wayzata was a nice victory — an undefeated Trojans team at that point — back-to-back wins over Park Center and Eden Prairie on Dec. 28 and 29 send the Hawks into 2022 feeling good.
Chaska beat an Eagle team that was also unbeaten, and led by eight points at halftime. The deficit grew to 11 before the Hawks rallied, eventually winning 65-59.
It was the third time in eight games — all three against Lake Conference opponents — that the Hawks trailed at halftime.
“We’ve had this conversation before. It seems like we’re always starting a little slow. We don’t have that jump in our step early on. I think in the second half we’re more comfortable. We understand what we are facing and how we can beat it,” Karrmann said.
Like she did much of last season, including a post-season run all the way to a state title, junior point guard Kennedy Sanders has been the catalyst. Her ability to drive into the lane for scores helped Chaska come back on Wayzata. She did the same against Eden Prairie.
“Everybody feeds off her. She can do amazing things. I watch her play every day, but I’m always so impressed with her and what she can do. When you see her and (Mallory Heyer) play together, it’s so much fun how well they work together. But we know it can’t always be on them,” Karrmann said.
Against Eden Prairie, it was Ashley Schuelke who starred with Heyer (16 points) and Sanders (19) with a career-high 17 points. It was Ellianna Lenzen with a double-digit effort in a win over Shakopee in the season opener.
Karrmann, averaging 6.4 points per game, has reached eight or more points three times, including the Eden Prairie win.
“I think looking back, I felt I needed to look to score more this season,” said Karrmann, who averaged 5.8 points per contest as a junior. “But I really enjoy sticking to doing the little things. Setting the screen. Grabbing a rebound. Taking the charge. Things like that. I do have to look for my shot a little more, become a little more of an offensive threat.”
While Chaska will face Minnetonka in a rematch of last season’s Section 2AAAA championship game at the end of the month on a neutral court at St. Michael-Albertville High School, the Hawks will face multiple tough challenges from now to then.
They are at an improved Chanhassen team on Friday with a home game against Olivia Olson and Benilde-St. Margaret on Jan. 11. A match-up with undefeated and top-10 Roseville is also set for a neutral site of Anoka-Ramsey Community College on Jan. 15.
“We talk about how there is this target on our backs. Everyone is out to beat us as defending state champions. We can’t look ahead to another team any night. We have to take it one game at a time. We have to be prepared every single game. That’s what we did last year. Games have been good. Scores have been close this season, and I think that really helps us compete hard,” Karrmann said.
HAWKS IN THE NEW YEAR
BOYS HOCKEY: Chaska won its first six games, and was 7-1 into the holiday tournament in Prior Lake. A scoring drought, just one goal in two contests, ultimately led to an 0-3 finish at the Hockey For Life Classic at Dakotah! Ice Center.
Despite outshooting Totino-Grace 31-10, not allowing a shot into midway through second period, the Hawks fell in overtime 1-0 after Chaska was whistled for too many players on the ice and the Eagles scored on the power play.
A key game with Eden Prairie the next day, Chaska fell 4-1 before dropping a 5-3 decision to Lakeville North in the finale. Sophomore Tanner Bruender scored in all three periods for the Hawks.
Chaska (7-4) plays eight times in January, all against Metro West Conference teams, with six home games and a rematch at Victoria Rec Center with Chanhassen on Jan. 22. Benilde-St. Margaret on Tuesday, Jan. 11, will present a strong challenge.
GIRLS HOCKEY: The Mid-Winter Meltdown is always a good indicator of where teams are at the halfway point in the season. For Chaska/Chanhassen, now 6-8 on the season, it was three hard-fought games, one ending in the win column.
Katelyn Roberts scored twice, including the eventual game-winner, in a 4-1 win over Minneapolis in the consolation semifinals.
The Storm Hawks were shutout by champion Benilde-St. Margaret (3-0) and Cretin-Derham Hall, finishing sixth.
Both Roberts goals — she has 15 this season with 12 assists — came unassisted.
Roberts, signed to play at Penn State University, after three seasons at forward, accepted a role on defense in the 2020-21 season, finishing with two goals and 12 assists in 16 games.
Roberts didn’t know what kind of role she’d play this season. But whatever the coaches ask of her, she’s ready. Roberts entered the season with 60 career points.
“I had this idea that I might be back there playing defense a couple of times after last year, but I never knew for sure. I wasn’t super surprised when they asked to me to play it. I was just ready to play, no matter what,” Roberts said.
Roberts’ ability to score, no matter the position, has been on display all season. She has found the net in eight of 14 games, tallying two hat tricks.
“I definitely should probably have more of a defensive mindset, but I just love being creative. I figure once you’ve taken care of the defensive zone, those are the times to take chances, look for some offense,” Roberts said.
Roberts is one of six seniors on the roster. Many have been on varsity two-to-four years, so wins like the one at the Eden Prairie tournament, miles from home, in front of family and friends, is something the seniors relish.
“It’s definitely bittersweet. It’s coming to an end, and we’re definitely excited for what’s next with college, but it’s kind of sad because these are the people I’ve spent so much time with all of these years. We just want to have a great last season, enjoy the time together as a team,” Roberts said.
BOYS BASKETBALL: Chaska has challenged itself over the years with a tough schedule. This year is no different. The Hawks, though, have just one starter back, and two players that saw regular time last season.
The result is close losses to some, larger deficits to others.
Chaska (1-7) was beaten twice in the annual holiday tournament in Eden Prairie by the host Eagles and defending Section 2AAAA champion Shakopee.
The Hawks led Eden Prairie 33-30 at halftime, but were outscored 45-25 over the final 18 minutes.
It was a similar story 24 hours later against the Sabers. Chaska, down eight at the break, were outscored 41-23 in a 26-point loss.
Senior Brady Nicholson, team leader at 23.9 points per game, netted 22 and 26 points in the loss. Senior Jakobe Lyles, the other regular rotational player from last season had 10 points in each game.
Chaska hosts Chanhassen at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 7.