Nia Hollie, shooting against Minnetonka's Kayla Mershon, has helped Hopkins to a No. 1 rank in Class 4A.
1. Rubber game possible
Hopkins and Eastview have been No. 1 and 2 in the rankings nearly the entire season. They split two regular season meetings, both in December. Defending state champion Eastview won the opening matchup 75-70 in overtime while Hopkins won 68-55 on New Year’s Eve. Not surprisingly, neither team has lost since. The brackets provide one last chance for deciding which team is better: Saturday’s championship game.
2. Getting big, staying strong
As the St. Michael-Albertville district has grown, the Knights have moved up two classes in the past 15 years. They won the Class 2A championship in 2001 and the Class 3A title in 2009. Making their fourth consectutive state tournament appearance, No. 3-seeded St. Michael has a chance to become the first team in state history to win championships in three classes.
3. Familiar face
White Bear Lake is making its fifth state tournament appearance in seven years. The Bears qualified in four consecutive years, from 2009 through 2012, finishing as runners-up to Lakeville North in 2010. After falling just short in 2013 and 2014, they avenged two regular-season losses to Roseville to upset the Raiders 53-41 in the Section 4 finals. The Bear are rolling, having won 11 of their past 12 games.
4. Finally, the spotlight
Shakopee is making its first tournament appearance since 1997, largely due to having one of the state’s best players. Junior guard Taylor Koenen, a 6-2 force inside, is perhaps the metro’s best player who remains largely unknown. She’s the leading scorer in school history despite still having a year of eligibility remaining. She averaged nearly 21 points and eight rebounds per game and set the school record for points in game with 38 earlier this season. She has made a verbal commitment to North Carolina.
5. Northwest Suburban strength
The Northwest Suburban Conference has two teams, Andover and Centennial, in the quarterfinals. Andover, making its first appearance since 2004, features a superb sophomore guard in Jolene Daninger, a three-point specialist who averages 16.4 points per game. Centennial is making its sixth tournament trip and second in two years despite losing its top six players from 2014 to graduation. The two teams split a pair of regular season meetings.
6. Hall of Fame coach is back
Rochester Mayo’s Rich Decker, in his third year as coach, has the Spartans back in the tournament for the second consecutive year. A coach for 43 years, including 34 as a head coach, he has 585 career victories. Most of them came while coaching boys at Kenyon and Rochester Lourdes. Decker is a member of the boys’ basketball coaching Hall of Fame.