Wayzata point guard Mimi Schader looks for an opening in a game against Maranatha, January 3, 2018.
Mimi Schrader didn’t know what to expect, but she certainly didn’t expect this. Wayzata’s savvy point guard knew the Trojans had some talent coming back from a team that finished 22-7 and had Hopkins on the ropes in last year’s Class 4A, Section 6 final.
But six contributing seniors had graduated, and there were no juniors from last season’s team to step into those spots. Holes needed to be filled. Young players needed to be developed. Questions needed to be answered.
“I was skeptical about what this team might look like,” Schrader said.
How about being 16-0 after Friday’s 70-66 victory over Hopkins, and being ranked No. 2 in Class 4A?
“If you would have told me that before the season, I would have been surprised,” Schrader said.
Even though she is just a junior, Schrader is the longest-tenured of the Trojans. She was an eighth-grader on the 2014-15 team that posted a sub-.500 record. The next season, she was joined by Kallie Theisen, a 6-1 forward who has blossomed into one of the metro’s top offensive threats. They form the nucleus of the current roster that includes fellow juniors Ella and Soni Schrader (Mimi’s sisters — they’re triplets) and three sophomores who gained vital experience last season in Jasmine Smiley, Alivia Arnebeck and Lydia Hay.
A solid group, to be sure, but what has lifted the Trojans to the upper echelon in Class 4A has been the unexpected contributions of two newcomers. One is sophomore Annika Stewart, a versatile 6-3 forward who joined the team after a family move from Minot, N.D. The other is 6-foot freshman forward Jenna Johnson, a pleasant surprise in her first varsity season.
“We certainly didn’t see this coming,” Wayzata coach Mike Schumacher said. “We knew we had some pieces to the puzzle, but you never think that 14 games [now 16] into the season you’re going to be undefeated.”
Schumacher gives customary plaudits to hard work and a team-first attitude, but singled out Theisen and Mimi Schrader for blazing the way.
“We have some high-skill kids. And even thought they’re not seniors, Kallie and Mimi have played a lot of basketball,” he said. “We’ve got some youthful exuberance and some veteran experience to lean on.”
Widely considered as Minnesota’s top recruit in the class of 2019, Theisen knows that where she goes, and what she does, her teammates follow. Always seen as a polished scorer down low, she’s aware that her talent catches eyes. She’s made a point of setting the proper tone for her team.
“Now that I’m older, I have more of a leadership role,” Theisen said. “I’m trying to be that calming influence when things get crazy. And I make sure I put 100-percent effort into every game.”
That work ethic has paid off. The Trojans haven’t had many blowouts. Ten of their first 16 victories were by 10 points or fewer. They may be young, but they’re playing like veterans, finding ways to win.
Schumacher acknowledged that might be the most fulfilling aspect of the season to date.
“On paper, it might look like we’re rolling, but it’s not like we’re blowing people out,” he said. “In a lot of these close games, when it’s been crunch time, we’ve had different kids step up.”
While offense is inherently streaky, defense is often the determining factor when it comes to consistency. Mimi Schrader said the Trojans’ commitment to stopping opponents will be the biggest factor in continuing their success.
“We played Forest Lake and we really hammered down on defense,” Schrader said, referring to a 60-37 victory both she and Theisen cite as Wayzata’s most complete game this season. “We played every possession with a purpose. If we play defense like that for the rest of the season, that showed us how far we can go.”
With the postseason still a long way off, the Trojans now are just focused on getting better and having fun.
“What sometimes gets lost is that these kids truly enjoy each other,” Schumacher said. “We had a hard fought game against Chaska where we didn’t shoot particularly well but we escaped with a victory. After the game, the kids were laughing and giggling. We have fun every time out.”