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Meet the 2017 Star Tribune preseason Metro Dream Team and more girls' basketball story lines

By Jim Paulsen, Star Tribune, 12/04/17, 7:15PM CST

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The Lake Conference may be home to three large-school titans, but the talent housed at some area small-school programs shouldn't be overlooked.

Minnetonka's Morgan Walker is one of players from the Lake Conference named to the Star Tribune preseason Dream Team. . Photo by Korey McDermott, SportsEngine

Minnetonka's Morgan Walker is one of players from the Lake Conference named to the Star Tribune preseason Dream Team. Hopkins' Paige Bueckers and Wayzata's Kallie Theisen are the other two. Photo by Korey McDermott, SportsEngine

Star Tribune preseason Dream Team

(Listed alphabetically, seniors unless noted.)

Paige Bueckers, Hopkins, 6-0, G, soph.: Has a chance to be the best player Minnesota has ever produced. (College: undecided)

Morgan Hill, Minneapolis South, 5-9, G: Two-time Minneapolis Conference player of the year (College: undecided)

Kallie Theisen, Wayzata, 6-1, G, jr.: Top Minnesota prospect in the Class of 2019 (College: undecided)

Megan Walker, Minnetonka, 5- 9, G: Versatile scorer is Minnetonka’s single-season scoring leader (College: Lehigh)

Megan Walstad, Eastview, 6-2, F: Can beat you off the bounce, from the perimeter or down low. (College: Wisconsin-Milwaukee)

Beyond the Dream Team

Think the talent level drops off after the dream team? Take a gaze at 10 more metro stars. They are listed alphabetically and are seniors unless noted. College plans in parentheses.

Carmen Backes, Chisago Lakes, 6-1, G (Wisconsin)
Sommer Blakemore, Park Center, 5-7, PG (undecided)
Krystal Carlson, Hastings, 6-1, P (Sioux Falls)
Monika Czinano, Watertown-Mayer, 6-2, C (Iowa)
Emma Grothaus, Mahtomedi, 6-3, F (Lehigh)
Liza Karlen, St. Paul Central, 6-2, P, soph. (undecided)
Kayla Mershon, Minnetonka, 6-3, P (Nebraska)
Destinee Oberg, Holy Angels, 6-2, P, jr. (undecided)
Annika Stewart, Wayzata, 6-3, P, jr. (undecided)
Raena Suggs, Hopkins, 5-7, G (undecided)

Star Tribune metro girls' top 10

1. Hopkins (4A): There’s a load of talent around her, with forwards Angie Hammond and Dlayla Chakolis and whippet-quick guard Raena Suggs, but make no mistake: this is Paige Bueckers’ team.
2. Wayzata (4A): Six-foot-3 sophomore Annika Stewart and freshman Jenna Johnson join Kallie Theisen and floor general Mimi Schader to make an already very good team potentially great.
3. Centennial (4A): Bookend senior guards Sydney Stapleton and Claire Orth pace a deep and talented roster ready to take the next step.
4. Eastview (4A): Expect the Lightning to buzz on defense around multi-talented star forward Megan Walstad. Mariah Alipate’s return from a knee injury is a big addition.
5. Lakeville North (4A): The Panthers lost scoring from last season, but senior front-liners Ke James and Taylor Brown return along with a potential star in sophomore Lauren Jensen.
6. Minnetonka (4A): Tall and experienced, with balance inside and out. Guard Megan Walker is a natural scorer and Katey Brattland is poised to set state records as a three-point shooter.
7. Cretin-Derham Hall (4A): The best player you’ve not yet heard of is the Raiders’ 6-foot junior forward Frannie Hottinger, one of the state’s best finishers.
8. Minnehaha Academy (2A): All five Redhawk starters from last season’s 2A state tournament qualifiers are back, a year older and a year wiser. With their school damaged by an explosion, they will play home games at various sites around the metro.
9. DeLaSalle (3A): The Islanders, with nearly everyone back from last year’s 3A consolation champs, have perhaps the deepest front court in the class, a couple of key transfers and a PG in Ayanna Gardner to make it go.
10. Forest Lake (4A): With a slew of talented juniors, the Rangers might be a year away. Abigail Groeneweg and company may just get there sooner.

Seven that will make noise: St. Michael-Albertville, Holy Angels (3A), Maple Grove, Minneapolis South, Robbinsdale Cooper (3A), Park Center, Roseville.

Three story lines

Cruisin’ the Lake
Tell me if you’ve heard this before: The epicenter of girls’ basketball in the metro is the Lake Conference. Hopkins, featuring Paige Bueckers and a stellar supporting cast of Angie Hammond, Dlayla Chakolis, Raena Suggs and Kira Mosley, a transfer from Eden Prairie, is the No. 1 team in Class 4A. Wayzata, which gained a pair of transfers that will take the pressure off of top junior Kallie Theisen, are right on the Royals’ heels. Minnetonka might be the most balanced team in the conference. Edina is transitioning to a guard-centric offense after losing last year’s twin posts. Eden Prairie has replaced coach Faith Patterson with the ultra-organized Ellen Wiese, the former Orono coach who spent 2016-17 as an assistant at the University of St. Thomas.

Who’s the next Elk River?
Truthfully, few outside of Elk River saw the Elks’ magical, undefeated Class 4A championship season coming. Looking back, the signs were there – a high-end senior-dominated starting five – but those types of seasons require a large dollop of good fortune, too. Is there a team out there that could make a better-than-expected run? Two come to mind. Lakeville North’s early-season schedule is brutal, with games against Minnetonka (a 73-63 victory), Wayzata, Centennial and Eastview among their first six. But the Panthers will be battle-tested by the time the South Suburban conference season rolls around. DeLaSalle, meanwhile, looks as loaded as any team in Class 3A, oozing front court quality and athleticism. If the Islanders can defend, they’ll be hard to beat.

Small schools, big talent
Beyond the large shadow cast by big-school metro programs are players worth watching at smaller schools. Heritage Christian guard Taylie Scott leads the Eagles in pursuit of their first Class 1A state tournament berth. Maranatha, a perennial Class 1A favorite, moves up to Class 2A but has 6-1 forard Jaclyn Jarnot to help smooth out the bumps. Watertown-Mayer will lean on their rapidly improving 6-3 post Monika Czinano, an Iowa-recruit. Blake coach Kelly Vang raves about junior guard Robbie Grace. Norwood Young America’s 6-3 center Bren Fox is a double-double machine (15.8 ppg, 12.6 rpg) who is also a volleyball star, as are Mayer Lutheran’s talented duo of Maddy Hucky and Mya Chmielewski.

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