Hopkins forward Nia Coffey sees another side of her older sister, Sydney, on the basketball court this season.
Sarcastic and downright silly at home, Sydney has grown into the Royals' emotional leader as a senior. If the Royals' uniforms had sleeves, her heart would be affixed to one.
"I see more passion," said Nia, a junior guard. "She was not like this last year."
"Last year I was a lot more tentative," she said. "This year I'm trying to be more aggressive and show better leadership on the floor. I have kind of surprised myself. I'm normally really quiet and like to stay in the background but this year is different."
There are good reasons for the changes. A year ago, Sydney was content to support the seniors who led Hopkins to the Class 4A title. The challenge of repeating forced her to embrace a more visible and vocal role. Individual and team results show she has succeeded.
Hopkins enters the state tournament as the top-ranked team and No. 1 seed. The Royals (28-1) play Lakeville North (21-8) in a quarterfinal game beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Target Center. The game is a rematch of a Dec. 9 game won 46-41 by Hopkins in overtime.
Sydney Coffey ranks second among Royals scorers at 13 points per game, but it's how she scores that make the difference.
Several teams attempted slowing the Royals with a zone defense. Coach Brian Cosgriff said his team's ability to attack or shoot over zones has greatly improved.
Coffey has excelled in both areas. She leads the team in free-throws made (99) and three-pointers made (51).
"We have a lot of girls who can get to the rim but when they get stopped and can kick it out to Sydney, that's huge because she makes most of her shots," senior Gracia Hutson said.
Sydney Coffey has become equally adept at getting her point across. She's used her newly discovered fire to warm teammates with encouragement rather than burn them with criticism.
As expectations and pressure grew during the playoffs, Coffey kept the team grounded through her words and action. Hutson said receiving a pat on the back or a hand on the shoulder from Coffey, "says more than words can say and really means a lot."