St. Paul Como Park celebrated a win Tuesday night and with it, a trophy for winning the St. Paul City Conference. But not everyone was all smiles.
Sure, there were cheers. But there was also senior guard Makayla VanNett, who appeared less excited. The stern look had mostly to do with the regularity of this ritual.
For VanNett and Como Park, Tuesday’s 74-45 win over St. Paul Central clinched the Cougars’ fourth consecutive conference title. It’s a moment they cherish, but is just one part of the team’s ultimate goal.
Coming into this game, the Cougars (17-8, 12-0) held a one-game lead over the Minutemen (13-12, 10-2) in the conference standings thanks to a 91-73 win on Jan. 26. The blowout was Central’s lone conference loss, and the team were looking to avenge it. With a victory in their regular-season finale on Tuesday, the Minutemen could earn at least a split of the conference crown and host the annual city championship game against the winner of the Minneapolis City Conference.
But Central's dream of pulling off the upset against the Cougars, ranked No. 20 in Class 3A by Minnesota Basketball News, died early as Como Park got out to a 7-0 start and never looked back.
It was similar to many games this season, with the Cougars' success starting with VanNett. Entering Tuesday night averaging 21.5 points per game, VanNett had no trouble scoring -- including recording nine of her team’s first 11 points. She ended the half with a team-high 22 points and finished with a game-high 28.
“We were very focused,” VanNett said. “It’s a young group that gets jitters, but we kept it consistent and boxed them out and pushed the ball.”
The Cougars continued to cruise behind VanNett as they went into the half leading by 19. Their advantage hovered around 20-25 points for most of the second half.
Ultimately, this game turned into a celebration of what VanNett and the five seniors have done for the program. This group has accomplished quite a bit, including four conference crowns and the school’s first state tournament appearance in 2016.
VanNett specifically has had a noteworthy career. She eclipsed the 2,000-point mark in a 79-74 loss to Maranatha Christian Academy on Feb. 12. And as a sophomore, she was a key cog in the machine that earned the Cougars that state tournament bid.
“She’s a different type of kid,” Como Park coach Alexis Gray-Lawson said. “She’s always in the gym. She’s gone from being a role player to becoming a leader.”
While VanNett had her moment in the limelight, so did some of the younger Cougars. Como Park’s roster features seven players who are a freshmen or younger. With VanNett and some of other starters out of the game in the second half, players such as eighth-grader Kaylynn Asberry had a chance to shine.
Asberry scored 12 points in the second half to finish with 17. She played strong with the ball and had the fans on their feet with her crossover dribble.
“It’s like we have a yin and a yang,” Gray-Lawson said. “For me, it’s fantastic. We want to see these girls come out late in the season and break out.”
With the conference schedule finished, the Cougars can turn their attention toward the postseason and battling teams such as No. 3-3A Mahtomedi and No. 4-3A DeLaSalle for the Class 3A, Section 4 title. But first, Como Park will host Minneapolis South in the annual intercity game. Though this is another routine experience for the Cougars, it’s still something that stands tall in their minds.
“It’s everything to rep St. Paul,” Gray-Lawson said. “It’s probably our most important game of the season. We want to keep winning and use this to prepare for sections.”
Click photos to view the entire gallery from the game
In a battle of the top two teams in the St. Paul City Conference, St. Paul Como Park proved to be better, defeating St. Paul Central 74-45 and securing its fourth consecutive conference championship.
For the Cougars, ranked No. 20 in Class 3A by Minnesota Basketball News, it all went through senior Makayla VanNett. The second-best scorer in school history posted a game-high 28 points, including 22 in the first half. She knocked down six three-pointers in the win.
Aside from VanNett, eighth-grade guard Kaylynn Asberry was the only other player in double-figures for Como Park (17-8, 12-0), finishing with 17 points, including 12 in the second half.
The Minutemen (13-12, 10-2) struggled to contain VanNett. Central went into the locker room at the break trailing 35-16.
The Minutemen were led by a pair of senior forwards, Jonquelle Warren and Ellie Gubbrud, who each had 12 points.
With the win, the Cougars win the conference crown outright. They will host the winner of the Minneapolis City Conference, Minneapolis South, on Saturday at 1 p.m.