Once upon a time it was Osseo who was the 800-pound gorillas in the Northwest Suburban Western Division. Osseo had the best record among the West teams 6 of 7 years until Park Center put together 4 years at 65-12.…
Once upon a time it was Osseo who was the 800-pound gorillas in the Northwest Suburban Western Division. Osseo had the best record among the West teams 6 of 7 years until Park Center put together 4 years at 65-12. But, now, Park Center seems to be ripe for picking, but by whom? Osseo might be the obvious candidate except that Osseo is coming off its worst year in, well, maybe, ever at 4-15. Maple Grove was 2nd in the South last year at 10-9, and they have almost everybody back.
In a nutshell, the Northwest Suburban Western Division hasn’t been this wide open in along, long time.
1. Maple Grove 15-4 (10-9, tied for 2nd last year, average 12 wins over the last 11 years)
Maple Grove returns a big senior class with 5-11 Katerina Theis (13 ppg), 5-11 Autumn Mlinar (12), guard Annika Rosa (5), 5-9 Lauryn Moline (4) and forward Rebekah Tyler (4). But the girl who just might put them over the top is sophomore point guard Abby Schulte. She became the point guard late last season and brought calm and order to the Crimson game. She didn’t score, but she showed this past summer that she can do that, too. She may be one of Minnesota’s top point guards before she’s done.
2. Park Center 13-6 (18-1, 1st last year, average 10 wins over the last 11 years)
The Pirates go for their 5th straight West title but lose a lot from last year’s senior class—Mikayla Hayes, Ann Simonet, Danielle Schaub and more. There are still plenty of bodies but not much size and not much experience. Senior guards Sommer Blakemore and Meghan DuBois lead the way. Blakemore is quick and pushes the pace, DuBois is clever and excels in the half court. Both can score—19 ppg between them a year ago.
But the future at Park Center resides with sophomore guards Lauren Frost, Kayla Cox and Aaliyah Ragulen. They’re 5-6, 5-3 and 5-3, and each beats you in different ways. And, then, there’s forward Adalia Mackenzie, a great athlete whose basketball skills are a work in progress. Still, her upside could end up being comparable to former Pirate Cayla McMorris, now at Wisconsin. Aszha Michael provides what little size there is at 5-9.
Add a new coach to the mix, Barb Metcalf, who comes to Park Center after 9 years at West Fargo, where she went 148-72. There’s plenty of upside at Park Center if it all fits together.
3. Robbinsdale Armstrong 12-7 (10-9, tied for 2nd last year, average 6 wins)
Armstrong has the conference’s top 1-2 punch in forward Carly Krsul and guard Masengo Mutanda…if Mutanda’s knee is 100 percent. She hurt the knee last spring in AAU ball , so she’ll have about 7 months of recovery under her belt when fall practice begins. Some girls come back in that amount of time, others take a little longer. Considering that Mutanda’s game is so heavily predicated on an explosive first step, it could take her a little long but, sorry, that’s speculation. I hope for her sake and her team’s sake and for my sake and for your sake that she is 100 percent soon, because she is as much fun to watch as just about any girl in Minnesota.
Krsul is also a very, very solid player of just about the exact opposite type, a 6-0 forward, who bangs away inside until she gets what she wants, last year to the tune of 13 ppg, 9 rebounds and 3 assists. The Falcons lack the depth of Maple Grove and Park Center, however with junior guards Jordan Bloom (7 ppg) and Tiahna James (3 ppg) and sophomore guard Jessica Hanley (3 ppg) being pretty much it.
4. Irondale 6-13 (3-16, 6th last year, average 3 wins over 3 years)
Irondale has won just 10 conference in 3 years since joining the NW Suburban from the now-defunct North Suburban. They've had to overcome a historically porous defense, which something now 2nd year coach Nicole Bullock has been working on. As usual, the Knights can score, but hope springs from the possibility that they might stop some people this year.
The offense revolves around 6-0 freshman post Dora Okpara, who uses her body to get great position on the low block. She doesn’t make enough of her shots yet because she doesn’t really get her legs into it but, still, those are good shots and, hopefully, they’ll start to drop. A second post, 6-0 senior Sarah Loken, also brings good hands to the job and has a nice feel for the game. If Loken and Okpara can play the game together, so much the better.
Guards Sophie Findell, the senior 1, and Kahla Jester, the junior 2, can score, too, though I wish Jester was more aggressive looking for her shot. 5-10 junior forward Ashley Polson adds some size and athleticism. Irondale will compete a little better but, again, the wins will only come when the defensive stops start to come.
5. Totino-Grace 6-13 (6-13, 4th last year, average 6 wins over 3 years in the conference)
T-Grace has some nice talent in forward Brianna Glynn and guards Madison Doran and Carla Meyer but, of course, that’s not enough talent in this league. They play together and don’t beat themselves but it’s hard for them to match up against either size or quickness.
6. Osseo 5-14 (4-15, 5th last year, average 14 wins)
The decline at Osseo will continue another year, I’m afraid. There are plenty of bodies but nobody who has shown the ability to score in double digits, for example. Freshman guard Anna Corono and sophomore forward Jaiden Kline bring hope for the future.
7. Spring Lake Park 2-17 (1-18, 7th last year, average 1 win over 3 years)
Nobody has struggled like Spring Lake Park and the Panthers had D1 guard Jenna Murphy these past 3 years. Now, without her…. Junior guard Jocelyn Talso leads the way but, otherwise, it’s hard to see where the points are going to come from.
Center—Sara Loken, Irondale, 6-0, senior, 7 ppg-5 reb
Power Forward—Carly Krsul, Armstrong, 6-1, junior, 13 ppg-9 reb-3 asts
Small Forward—Katrina Theis, Maple Grove, 5-11, senior, 13 ppg
Point Guard—Sommer Blakemore, Park Center, 5-7, senior, 11 ppg-4 reb
Combo Guard—Masengo Mutanda, Armstrong, 5-7, junior, 21 ppg-8 reb-2 asts
Center—Dora Okpara, Irondale, 6-0, freshman, 6 ppg-5 reb
Power Forward—Brianna Glynn, Totino-Grace, 5-8, junior, 8 ppg
Small Forward—Autumn Mlinar, Maple Grove, 5-11, senior, 12 ppg
Point Guard—Abby Schulte, Maple Grove, sophomore, 3 ppg
Shooting Guard—Meghan DuBois, Centennial, 5-8, senior, 8 ppg-2 asts
Center—Aszha Michael, Park Center,5-9, senior, 4 ppg
Forward—Jay Kwateh, Osseo, junior, 4 ppg
Point Guard—Sophie Findell, Irondale, 5-7, senior, 10 ppg-2 asts
Shooting Guard—Lauren Frost, Park Center, 5-6, sophomore, 4 ppg
Shooting Guard—Kahlan Jester, Irondale, 6-0, junior, 7 ppg
Power Forward—Adalia Mackenzie, Park Center, 5-9, freshman, 2 ppg
Point Guard—Aaliyah Ragulen, Park Center, 5-3, sophomore, 2 ppg
Combo Guard—Anna Corono, Osseo, freshman, 4 ppg
Combo Guard—Carla Meyer, Totino-Grace, sophomore, 5 ppg
Shooting Guard—Joelle Talso, Spring Lake Park, sophomore, 7 ppg