A core group of four seniors who have played together since fourth grade. (L to R): Megan Munneke, Erica Hicks, Gabby Mocchi and Amanda Pollard celebrating after game where Hicks scored her 1,000th career point against Coon Rapids on Jan. 27, 2017. Photo
The years have not dulled Gabby Mocchi’s memory of an improbable basketball shot.
With seconds left before halftime of a third-grade Champlin in-house league game, an opposing player named Erica Hicks heaved the ball from halfcourt and made the shot.
That girl is something special, Mocchi recalled thinking. The next year, the duo became teammates in traveling basketball, joined by Megan Munneke and Amanda Pollard. Together, the foursome became something special — successful teammates who remained together all the way to varsity.
Last season, the group helped Champlin Park to its first 20-victory season in more than a decade. As seniors, they have fueled the Rebels’ 11-game winning streak (heading into their game Friday against Centennial) and state tournament hopes.
“It’s so awesome the way we grew up loving the game and each other,” Mocchi said. “It’s important for us to end our time with a bang.”
Rarely separated, the players hone their abilities on the court, get away to the Munneke’s lake cabin, stop after games at Broadway Pizza or go out for coffee or a movie. Other players have come and gone. Jaclyn Jarnot played on the same youth teams with the group before enrolling at Maranatha Christian Academy as a seventh-grader. And the group first played with fellow Rebels senior Sydney Fields as freshmen.
Mocchi, Hicks, Munneke and Pollard, however, are a sisterhood within the Champlin Park team. Hardly insulated, the group connects with all teammates. Mocchi, Hicks and Pollard are captains while Munneke earns respect with her versatility and positive demeanor.
Success has followed them. They won a state championship as fifth-graders, with Munneke’s dad, Jeff, the Timberwolves and Lynx vice president of fan experience, as a coach. He preached a formula — unselfish play, taking turns in the spotlight — that followed the girls to varsity success.
“With our team, you never know which one of us will be the star in a game,” Hicks said.
Oftentimes, Hicks’ scoring prowess commands the most attention. The guard averages 20.3 points per game and is nearing the Champlin Park career scoring mark.
“I call her, ‘Speedy Girl 911,’ ” Mocchi said. “That’s how I entered her into my first slide phone in sixth grade. She’s always been fast and she just knows where to shoot and how to attack.”
Mocchi, a 6-1 forward, averages 11.4 points per game and “makes huge plays on defense and with her rebounding,” Hicks said. “Plus she can guard the other team’s post players and shoot three-pointers.” Mocchi will play college basketball at Montana State.
Munneke averages 3.9 points per game and makes other contributions. Whether starting or coming off the bench, she is “always ready to play, plays good defense and can knock down a shot from anywhere,” Hicks said.
Munneke will play college golf at South Dakota. She tied for 27th at the Class 3A state tournament last spring as her three longtime basketball teammates watched.
Pollard, a 5-9 point guard who will play basketball at Wagner College in New York, provides “great leadership,” Megan Munneke said. “She really distributes the ball but if she’s got an opening, she goes for it.” Pollard averages 10.4 points per game.
Starting with a Dec. 19 victory against Coon Rapids, Champlin Park has reeled off 11 consecutive victories. The highlight was the second game of the surge, a 58-54 win at rival Centennial. Hicks had a game-high 23 points while Mocchi and Pollard combined for 24.
The winning streak required the girls to dig deep, both mentally and physically. Strong defense, Pollard said, carried the group game after game. Whenever the momentum dipped, the girls’ years of camaraderie and competitiveness shined.
“If there was a slump or something during a game, we would huddle and pick each other up,” Munneke said. “We remind each other that we believe in each other.”
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574