Steady improvement will be tested by a tough schedule as the Pirates seek to reach the state tournament.
Cayla McMorris, a junior forward and returning all-conference player, went up for a layup against Hannah Schaub, who also was an all-conference selection a year ago, during a recent practice at Park Center High School. Photo by Kyndell Harkness • firstname.lastname@example.org
Park Center's Dec. 1 meeting with Braham will be remembered as the game Bombers' senior guard Rebekah Dahlman became the first female Minnesota basketball player to break the 4,000-point barrier.
Adding to the legend, Dahlman scored 41 points despite tweaking her ankle early in the game.
Standing just outside the spotlight that rightfully shined on Dahlman was Park Center junior forward Cayla McMorris, who scored 35 points in a losing effort despite soreness in her knee. Her performance highlighted what coach Patty Sorensen called "another step in the right direction" for her talented, hopeful Pirates' team.
In the past three seasons, Park Center improved from seven to 10 to 18 victories. The Pirates rose to a section final loss to eventual Class 3A champion DeLaSalle.
With McMorris, fellow all-conference selection Hannah Schaub and McKenna DuBois, Park Center returns the core of a team Sorensen believes can go ever further this winter -- perhaps all the way to the Pirates' first state tournament appearance.
Players have embraced the dream but chose a season motto to keep their focus: "Victory. One Step at a Time."
The first step was a doozy. A tentative Pirates' team struggled through much of the first half in an eventual season-opening loss against Robbinsdale Cooper.
Injury was a factor. McMorris, who missed a half-dozen games last season because of a sprained knee ligament, felt soreness in the knee during the game. DuBois, a sophomore guard with poise beyond her years, rolled her ankle.
The Pirates, McMorris said, took an important step by regrouping in the second half, communicating better and "playing how we like to play instead of playing how Cooper likes to play."
Sorensen said the surge carried over to the Braham game, in which the team showed growth despite a loss.
"Our flow was much better than against Cooper," Sorensen said. "We stepped up on defense and we brought the ball up well against some pressure."
Sorensen increased the pressure this season, putting together "the toughest schedule we've had in the 15 years I've been here," she said, and enlisting the help of a male scout team at practice. The girls face the boys a few times each week and have enjoyed the challenge.
"I personally really like it because it's more aggressive and up-tempo," Schaub said. "It's more competitive and it will make us stronger."
"It gets us stronger.,'' said senior wing Hollie Sorensen, the coach's daughter. ''We make better cuts, we make better passes and we learn how to box out bigger and stronger people."
Sorensen has a unique perspective that comes with seeing her coach/mother away from the court. She senses something different about her mother, whose high expectations aren't just words.
"I think she's pushing us a lot harder, which is a good thing because we need to be pushed harder to get where we want to get," Hollie Sorensen said.
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574