Hopkins' Nia Coffey
It's hard to ignore Hopkins, which is favored to win its third Class 4A state championship in as many years. Though most of the past decade has been about the Royals and their dominance, they've earned it. And it's the same this season.
The way senior standout Nia Coffey puts it, "Expectations get greater every year."
Coffey, arguably the metro's best player, and several other Royals could be considered among the top 10 most talented players. What separates coach Brian Cosgriff's group from other close contenders is depth, with talent off the bench that could start for other teams.
"Our expectations are to win it again," Coffey said. "We do have what it takes. But we have a lot of work to get where we want to be ... and we have all season to do that."
Cosgriff said the Royals can feel the target on their backs, but it hasn't been a distraction. The only team to hit it last season was Wayzata.
A chance to watch some of the state's best players will require Twin Cities residents to travel outside of the metro to Braham, Duluth and New Richland except this Saturday.
Braham's Rebekah Dahlman is the state's all-time leading scorer and is on track to eclipse 5,000 career points this season. She is the only state player rated a five-star recruit by ESPN and was last season's Gatorade Player of the Year.
Travel further north to Duluth and you'll see UCLA's newest recruit, Esko's 6-8 Savanna Trapp, who will use her size to overwhelm opponents. And finally, south of the Cities is New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva's Carlie Wagner, who outplayed Dahlman in a Class 2A state quarterfinal last season by scoring 43 points.
Girls' basketball enthusiasts get an early Christmas gift Saturday. Most of the state's best teams and players will be at the annual Tip-off Classic at Hopkins Lindbergh Center.
It features the four defending champions: Hopkins (4A), DeLaSalle (3A), Providence Academy (2A) and Maranatha Christian (1A). Thirteen of the regions's top recruits will be playing.
Outstate standouts Dahlman, Trapp and Wagner also will get a chance to test their abilities against some of the metro's best teams. An estimated 50-plus college coaches will be on hand to scout.
A few teams could be considered contenders to dethrone Hopkins, but at the top of that list is Roseville. The Raiders return everyone from last season's 24-4 team. Multiple years of varsity experience nine players deep provides Roseville the depth to match up with Hopkins.
The 16 letterwinners on the roster, led by Jacqlyn Poss' hot hand from three-point territory, have high expectations. The Raiders' four losses last season were by a combined 13 points.
Class 4A, 3A and 1A all have back-to-back champions who have a high likelihood of adding another title this season. Hopkins, DeLaSalle and Maranatha Christian are all favored to three-peat as champions, while Providence Academy in 2A is in line to repeat with the talent it returns.
Since the creation of four classes in 1997, 11 teams have won consecutive titles. The only team to win three in a row was Class 3A Minneapolis North (2003-2005).