To say the Panthers coasted to the Class 4A championship in March might be an overstatement, but you cannot ignore the nearly 21-point average margin of victory that Lakeville North had in its six postseason games to cap an undefeated season. Gophers recruit Rachel Banham, a 5-9 guard, leads a talented returning group, one that coach Andy Berkvam expects to be atop the mix. "We have eight really solid players," he said. "If we get all the kids to contribute and we can get our team defense a little stronger, we'll be good again." The Panthers will be tested early, with 10 of their first 12 games on the road.
Ten teams from last year's state tournaments -- including Lakeville North and Class 3A champ Benilde-St. Margaret's -- are among the 22 teams competing Saturday at Hopkins High School as a part of the Breakdown Sports Tip-Off Classic. The jam-packed day features games on two courts beginning at 10 a.m. Marquee match-ups include Providence Academy vs. Braham (10 a.m.), Eden Prairie vs. Hill-Murray (4:45 p.m.), Minnetonka vs. DeLaSalle (5:30 p.m.) and Lakeville North vs. Hopkins (6:30 p.m.).
Three of Chris Carr's six NBA seasons were spent at least partially with the Timberwolves. He landed in Eden Prairie after retiring in 2001 and has been a fixture in the surrounding communities ever since with the establishment of his 43 Hoops Basketball Academy. This offseason, a chance to coach at Eden Prairie "just presented itself," and Carr took advantage. He's only a few weeks into his first stint as a full-time girls' coach, but already Carr is soaking up the benefits. "I have a daughter in the system, so it's given me time to spend with her," he said. "And the team as a whole, we've made some significant gains. They have expectations set for them, and our goal is to do better than last year."
Defending Class 3A champ Benilde-St. Margaret's is the obvious favorite to repeat until proven otherwise. But it's no slam dunk. Hill-Murray took the Red Knights to the brink in the title game, and top seed DeLaSalle settled for third after getting knocked out of the semifinals by the Pioneers. All three teams return veteran players.
– Brian Stensaas