No matter how good a team is, one never knows how it will respond to a new coach.
This year former Timberwolf Chris Carr, now a year-round Minnesota resident, took over the reins at Eden Prairie — a loaded team to be sure, but also the first Carr had coached at the high school level.
“I think the first feeling from all the girls [was] kind of intimidation from him,” Eagles senior guard Morgan VanRiper-Rose said. “He’s coached guys, he’s been in the NBA. We didn’t know what it was going to be like.”
Once the season started, though, VanRiper-Rose and her teammates did most of the intimidating, using Carr’s aggressive brand of defense-first, up-tempo basketball to finish the regular season 21-4 — against a schedule as tough as any team’s in the state — before winning the Class 4A, Section 2 championship and a berth in the state tournament. Eden Prairie will face Rochester Mayo in the Eagles’ second state tournament appearance, their first being a third-place finish in 2009.
“I think I can speak for everyone when I say that it’s the best thing that’s happened for us,” VanRiper-
Rose said of Carr’s arrival. “We wouldn’t be here without him. Everybody bought into his philosophy right away, and I think that’s why we’re where we are right now.”
Carr is one reason. Another is Jackie Johnson, the Eagles’ versatile 6-2 junior forward. Johnson, who made the Star Tribune All-Metro second team, proved a devastating post presence this season. She showed a soft touch from mid-range and a point guard-like ability to get the ball to open fellow scorers such as VanRiper-Rose and junior Shayne Mullaney.
“She’s almost got like an alter ego,” Carr said of Johnson, who led the team in scoring and blocks. “She’ll charm you with her smile off the court, and then will cut your heart out to win on the court. That’s a quality that not many girls have.”
Johnson said that in addition to preaching defense, Carr also has helped her be more aggressive on offense.
“It was very special,” Johnson said of leading Carr’s first high school team to a section championship, “just because he as a coach has worked so hard and pushed us and made us better basketball players.”
Andrew Baker is a U of M student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.