Alaya Carter

Ninth-grader Alaya Carter scored five points for Prior Lake in the team’s 55-41 win at Burnsville Dec. 17.

The Prior Lake girls basketball team has been forced to grow up fast this season.

Five sophomores and four ninth-graders are getting a lot of minutes for the Lakers and the team is holding its own with a 5-3 start, including 3-1 in the South Suburban Conference.

Prior Lake lost its first SSC game Dec. 5, falling 68-43 at Shakopee. The Sabers jumped out to a 36-20 lead at the break and never looked back.

Sophomore Cecilia McNair led the Lakers with 12 points, while ninth-grader Brooklynn Holmberg scored 11 and junior Lauren Pawlyshyn had nine.

Prior Lake finished 2021 winning three of its last four games. The one loss was in non-league play, a 61-47 setback at No. 5-ranked Wayzata Dec. 18.

The three wins were against SSC teams — 48-47 versus Rosemount Dec. 14, 55-41 at Burnsville Dec. 17 and 73-25 at Apple Valley Dec. 21.

Prior Lake graduated eight seniors from last year in Demondi Johnson’s first season as coach. The team won 12 games, finishing 12-5 in the SSC.

Only three players from that squad returned who got varsity minutes — Pawlyshn, McNair and sophomore Anna Van Helden.

Through eight games this season, ninth-grader Breana Bowman was leading the Lakers in scoring at 8.6 points per game, followed by McNair (7.5), Pawlyshn (7.0), Holmberg (6.0), Van Helden (5.7), sophomore Avery Moeller (5.5), ninth-grader Alaya Carter (5.2) and ninth-grader Jocelyn Horner (5.0).

So Prior Lake has used a deep bench and multiple scoring options to win five of its first eight games.

In the victory over Apple Valley, sophomore Julia Thoms and McNair led the Lakers with 12 points apiece. Bowman scored 10 and Pawlyshn and Van Helden each finished with eight.

Prior Lake led 41-22 at the break.

In beating Burnsville, McNair scored 16 points to lead the way, while sophomore Ryan Thue had eight points and Pawlyshn and Bowman each scored six.

Bowman and Carter led Prior Lake in the win over Rosemount with 13 points apiece, while Van Helden scored nine.

Bowman scored 12 points to lead Prior Lake in the loss to Wayzata.

Prior Lake has lost in the first round of the Section 2AAAA playoffs the last two years. The Lakers won the section crown in 2018, earning their first state berth since becoming a Class 4A program at the start of 2003-04 season.

Section 2AAAA looks to be loaded again this winter. Three teams from it are ranked in the top four in Class 4A — No. 2 Minnetonka, No. 3 Eden Prairie and No. 4 Chaska, the defending Class 4A state champions.

Edina, Chanhassen and Waconia are also in the field.

Section quarterfinal play starts March 2. The semifinals are March 5 and the title game is March 11. The higher seed is at home in all three rounds.

Tom Schardin covers sports for Savage and Prior Lake. He is dependable, sarcastic and always joking around. Tom enjoys running and swimming and is often busy coaching his two kids' sports teams.