2018 in Review: Team of the Year
First things first. No big suspense. The Eastview Lightning are our Team of the Year. When was the last time that the big-school champion wasn’t the best team in the state? I don’t remember anyone making that argument for DeLaSalle’s…
First things first. No big suspense. The Eastview Lightning are our Team of the Year. When was the last time that the big-school champion wasn’t the best team in the state? I don’t remember anyone making that argument for DeLaSalle’s 3-peaters in 2011, 2012 and 2013 (Hopkins 3-peated those same years with better W-L records), nor for Mpls. North’s 3-peaters in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Maybe Marshall in 2001 and/or 2002. Maybe North in 1998 and/or 1999. Maybe Rochester Lourdes in 1991. Maybe New York Mills. Maybe never. And, lately, no, not at all.
So Eastview is the best team. That’s not to say that a smaller school can’t be Team of the Year, that it can’t achieve something better relative to its class. In this case, the obvious candidate is Sauk Centre, which did achieve something better—33-0, an all-time state best, compared to Eastview’s 32-0. In fact, we’ve declared Sauk to be co-Team of the Week for state tournament week. From the standpoint of an entire season, however, I wish Sauk had played (and beaten) at least one Class AAA or AAAA opponent.
So, in addition to being the best team, Eastview also had the best foil (Hopkins) and it also played in the Game of the Year (against Hopkins, of course). Sauk had a pretty good foil, by the way, defending state champion Roseau. Sauk defeated Roseau 80-70 at the Holdingford holiday tournament and again 63-52 in the state AA final. But having as worthy an opponent as Hopkins just adds to Eastview’s luster. Together, Eastview and Hopkins played the Game of the Year.
Game of the Year: Eastview 68 Hopkins 63, Class AAAA final
In order to win their state title, the Lightning played in and won the best game of the state tournament and the Game of the Year. Hopkins led throughout most of the 1st half, by as many as 13 points at 25-12 with 10:27 remaining in the half and still by 9 at 33-24 at 2:44. By half-time Eastview had scored on each of its last 3 possessions of the half, Hopkins on none. The Lightning was within 33-30 and the momentum had shifted.
In the 2nd half Eastview shot 50 percent, Hopkins just 34. More to the point, Eastview played with poise and avoided turning it over against the Royals great defensive pressure. They are probably the only team that could have beaten Hopkins because they are the only team that doesn’t get wide-eyed against the Hopkins D. Paige Bueckers was of course incredible for Hopkins, but Megan Walstad was almost as good with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, 7 rebounds and 2 assists. She guarded Bueckers a good bit of the game, and she helped handle the ball against the Hopkins pressure. For all of that, Walstad is our pick as Player of the Week for tournament week.
Still, Eastview was not home free until Bueckers and Raena Suggs missed a pair of shots at 14 and 5 seconds. Hopkins has now not won a state title since 2015. But, if you want to win one, you still have to go through Hopkins to get it.
Eastview joins a short list of teams that have won the state championship at the highest level with an unbeaten record. Well, actually, there are now a dozen such teams. Prior to the year 2000 there were Glencoe, Bloomington Jefferson, Coon Rapids, St. Cloud Apollo, Little Falls and Rochester Mayo. More recently, there are Lakeville (2002), Woodbury (2003), St. Paul Central (2007), Lakeville North (2010), Elk River (2017) and, now, Eastview.
It has been an article of faith since 2007 that Central’s champions from that year were and are the best Minnesota girls team ever. The next unbeaten champion after that was Lakeville North, and I remember lots of discussion as to whether they were better than Central. Most people agreed that, no, they’re not, but they asked the question. With Elk River, I don’t remember people even entertaining the question. But, now, with another unbeaten in the hopper, is as good a time as any to revisit the question. Who is the best ever, or at least of the 21st century? Here at least is some of the evidence.
Central 2007: Outscored its regular season opponents an average of 86-41 and its state tournament opponents 79-56. Out-shot its state tournament opponents 45 percent to 30 from the field. Out-rebounded them by 14 rebounds per game. Had 6 fewer turnovers per game.
Lakeville North 2010: Outscored state tournament opponents an average of 62-42. Out-shot them 46 percent to 29. Out-rebounded them by 9 rebounds, and had just one fewer turnover.
Elk River 2017: Outscored state tournament opponents 58-53, out-shot them 46-40 percent, got out-rebounded by them by 9, and had one fewer turnover.
Eastview 2018: Outscored state tournament opponents by 68-51, out-shot them 50 percent to 37, out-rebounded them by 9 and broke even on turnovers.
Then there’s the obvious question of who are the players?
Central featured Minnesota’s top guard between Lindsay Whalen and Rachel Banham. Angel Robinson went on to star at Marquette for 4 years. In the state tournament she averaged 20 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. She was arguably the best player on any of these 4 teams.
And in addition to that, Central had Kiara Buford (14 pgs-6 reb-3 ast per game), Ebony Black (14 pts-8 reb), Georgie Jones (10-10-3 blocks) and Thiearra Taylor (10-5-steals), for a total starting 5 of 68-29-10-3-5.
Lakeville North looks strangely like a 2-girl team from here. But what a dynamic duo they were. Rachel Banham averaged 17 pts-3 reb and 3 asts. 6-5 post Cassie Rochel was a lot better than people remember her today. She averaged 14 pts-13 reb and 5 blocked shots. The rest of the starting 5 averaged just 13-8, however, for a total of 44-24-3-5-0. Imagine that, no steals.
Gabi Haack led the way for Elk River at 20 pts-3 reb and 2 asts. Sidney Wentland had a terrific tournament with 13 pts-8 reb-2 ast-5 blk and 2 stls. Ava Kramer, Kelsie Cox and Danielle Lachmiller combined for a solid 28 pts-12 reb-5 ast-4 blk and 5 stls for a grand total of 61-23-9-9-7.
Finally, Eastview was of course led by Megan Walstad wit 17 pts-8 reb and 2 asts. Mariah Alipate had a nice tournament at 16 and 6, while Andrea Abrams averaged 12 pts and 3 boards. Emma Carpenter, Macy Guebert and Cassidy Carson combined for 21-8-8, for a team total of 66-25 and 12.
Taking in all of these number, Elk was by far the weakest on the team numbers—shooting percentage, team rebounding, team turnovers—while Lakeville was the weakest on the individual numbers, especially after you got past their stars Banham and Rochel. That’s a little misleading, however, because, well, they had Banham and Rochel. And, secondly, while Banham went on to become an offensive superstar with the Gophers, including 60 points in a Big 10 game, the fact is that it was Rochel who made that team what it was. With her 6-5 size and shot-blocking ability, she made Lakeville one of the best defensive teams ever and so their offensive shortcomings (after Banham) were offset to a large degree.
But then there’s another factor. Anyone who has watched Minnesota girls high school ball over the past decade or so knows that it has gotten better and better and better, though it’s hard to know what to do with this knowledge. But, taken together, all of the evidence suggests that Eastview 2018 is the one team with a case to be made as being better than Central 2007 among Minnesota’s unbeaten big school champions of the 21st century.
But then there’s a final factor. What if you don’t arbitrarily limit the consideration set to the unbeaten teams? Then, pretty obviously, you’ve got to go through all the foregoing gyrations with Hopkins 2011 (30-2), 2012 (31-1), 2013 (30-1) and 2015 (31-1) in the mix—and what about Eastview 2014 (31-1)? We’re not going to do that today. Let’s just say, food for thought.