Hockey and basketball tournaments during the holiday season give high school teams a chance to improve their stock.
Let’s look at some of the local teams that are on the rise and also set up some of the title races in the Lake Conference.
It is no surprise that the Lake Conference boys hockey teams from Wayzata and Minnetonka enter 2023 as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in Let’s Play Hockey Magazine’s state Class AA poll.
Take Wayzata (8-0-1) first. Trojan head coach Pat O’Leary has never had a deeper team. It sure helped the cause when brothers Cade and Finn De St. Hubert arrived as transfers from Hopkins. They fit nicely in a package with some of the key veterans like goalie Will Ingemann, forwards Luke Miller, Jake Mattson and Rhys Wallin and defenseman Kasen Sauer. Another new player with a big upside is freshman forward Jake Kvasnicka. After eight games, he was Wayzata’s leading scorer.
Minnetonka may have its fastest team ever from top to bottom. Senior captain Liam Hupka is clearly among the state’s best defensemen and junior John Stout is his equal. The Skippers first line, consisting of juniors Gavin Garry, Javon Moore and Hagen Burrows is loaded with scoring potential. All three made the All-Lake Conference team as sophomores. Kaizer Nelson, the Skippers’ No. 1 goalie, is consistently making big saves.
Coach O’Leary from Wayzata and coach Sean Goldsworthy have both won state Class AA championships in the past. Their experience behind the bench is an obvious asset. The same can be said of Curt Giles, the dean of Lake Conference boys hockey coaches at Edina.
Plagued by injuries early in the season, the Hornets opened with three losses. But once junior captain Jackson Nevers returned from a hard fall in a preseason scrimmage, the Hornets ran off seven wins in a row.
Edina completely dominated a good St. Thomas Academy team at the Tradition Invitational in Prior Lake with Nevers scoring two goals.
If Wayzata meets Edina in the Section 6AA championship game later this season, a sell-out crowd is almost assured.
Minnetonka will have a real fight to get out of Section 2AA, which includes tough teams from Prior Lake, Chanhassen, Eden Prairie and Holy Family Catholic.
Every year it seems that the only four teams capable of winning the state Class AA girls hockey title are Andover, Edina, Minnetonka and Hill-Murray.
Nothing has changed this year. Andover goes into the new year 11-1-0 with its only loss to Minnetonka. The Tonka Skippers are 12-1-0 with their only loss to Andover.
Edina is younger than usual this season, but senior goalie Uma Corniea could be the equalizer at playoff time.
Minnetonka has lots of scoring punch up front with Lindzi Avar, Kendra Distad, Ava Lindsay, Ruby Rauk and Grace Sadura leading the way. Layla Hemp, the capable sophomore, is making great progress as the goalie.
It appears from scores so far that Lake girls hockey is a two-team race between Minnetonka and Edina. Minnetonka won the first meeting at Braemar and will have home ice for the rematch Jan. 14 at Pagel Activity Center.
Edina entered the new year 8-2-2 overall. But you can’t overlook a Hornet tradition that includes state Class AA titles in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021. Coach Sami Cowger’s success has never been duplicated by any other coach in Class AA.
Novak’s Miracle Men
The big story in boys basketball so far is coach Kenny Novak Jr. and his Hopkins Miracle Men.
Starting a freshman and two sophomores, the Royals won seven of their first eight games by scoring more than 80 points per game. The Lake Conference is using a 35-second shot clock this season, but don’t worry, Hopkins won’t need it.
Cambridge-Isanti tried to run with the Royals in a holiday tournament game at Augsburg University last week, but Hopkins rolled to an easy 83-55 win behind 31 points from freshman point guard Jayden Moore.
Moore compares favorably with former Apple Valley High great Tyus Jones, who now plays in the NBA. Along with Moore in the backcourt, Hopkins had a dead-eye sport shooter, sophomore Anthony Smith. JJ Semanko starts as a sophomore forward. Stability comes from 6-5 senior forward Vincent Hillesheim and scrappy senior guard Jacob Rothman. Daveion Hart, Anthony Walker and Thomas Okemwa provide depth.
Wayzata got off to a slow start, but jumped above .500 at 4-3 last week.
The Trojans are guard-oriented once again. There is no better shooting coach in the state than Bryan Schnettler, the Trojans’ head man. He likes players who can shoot the three, and he has several good ones including seniors Jake Schmitt, Hayden Tibbits and Spencer Hall and 6-9 junior Jackson McAndrew.
Minnetonka can be scary good with brothers Jordan and Jalen Cain, Andy Stefonowicz, Alex Jones and Ibrahim El-Amin forming the starting five.
Speaking of scary, I watched Eden Prairie beat a good Chaska team 90-79 Dec. 28. EP’s 6-6 senior forward Chiddi Obiazor had three dunks in the first four minutes of the game. If he continues that sort of force, he could wind up being Mr. Basketball.
Hopkins girls dynasty
Although Hopkins is 8-0 and ranked first in the state in Class AAAA girls basketball, don’t count out any of the Royals’ top four Lake rivals. Look at the records: St. Michael-Albertville (8-0), Eden Prairie (8-1), Wayzata (7-1) and Minnetonka (5-2). Edina and Buffalo, the other conference teams will probably be in sixth and seventh places when the race ends.
The surprising aspect of Hopkins’ great start is that they did most of this without All-State forward Taylor Woodson, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury. Her absence put more pressure on seniors Nu Nu Agara and Kelly Boyle and junior Liv McGill. But they have thrived on that pressure.
Eden Prairie doesn’t have any height to speak of, but coach Ellen Wiese has done a brilliant job of working with the personnel she has. The Eagles are fast and they’ll make most of their open threes, which gives them the chance to score in bunches.
Wayzata is deep, solid and experienced with three future NCAA Division I players. Coach Julie Stewart likes a fast pace, and Trojan guards Brynn Senden and Grace Weber can get the ball up the court in a hurry.
If you haven’t seen Minnetonka yet this season, their young guards, sophomore Aaliyah Crump and ninth-grader Lanelle Wright, will catch your eye. Brian Cosgriff likes his speed and depth. When Tori McKinney comes back from an injury late in the season, the Skippers will be even better than they are now.