Wayzata guard Mimi Schrader drives on Hopkins' guard Kayhla Adams in a 2018 Wayzata victory, 70-66
Taking a broad perspective, the girls’ basketball game between the top two teams in Class 4A, No. 1 Hopkins and No. 2 Wayzata on Friday is simply one of 26 games on the schedule.
But what fun is that?
Let’s call it what it is: The biggest and most highly anticipated matchup of the girls’ basketball season to date.
To wit: Both teams are undefeated with 18-0 records. Both are led by high-level upperclassmen: Paige Bueckers and Dlayla Chakolis of Hopkins, Mimi Schrader and Kallie Theisen of Wayzata. Both have rosters chock full of young talent. Hopkins has two freshmen, Maya Nnaji and Amaya Battle, who have already been offered scholarships from the University of Minnesota. Wayzata's leading scorer, sophomore Jenna Johnson, has been one of the season’s breakout stars.
Both are Lake Conference rivals and reside in Section 6, which means only one of them will get the chance to advance to the state tournament. Throw in that Section 6 representatives voted in the offseason to move the championship game to the home of the highest-seeded team, instead of playing it at a neutral site, and you’ve got a must-see basketball event.
“This is what high school sports is all about,” said Schrader, the Trojans’ point guard, senior captain and veteran leader. “I’m going to tell the team to embrace the rivalry and the atmosphere. It’s going to be super fun.”
Even the coaches aren’t bothering to downplay the game’s significance. After a recent 44-point victory over Holy Angels, Hopkins coach Brian Cosgriff answered a question about his team's penchant for big games with a two-word comment. “February 1,” he said.
Hopkins has played in the last four Class 4A state championship games, winning it all in 2015 but falling short in the last three. The Royals have looked practically unbeatable this season. Relying on the vast skill set of Bueckers to run their offense and a defense that rattles opponents and turns turnovers into points quickly, the Royals score in bunches. They average 86 points per game with a margin of victory of more than 36 points.
Bueckers averages 25.7 points per game but is equally good at distributing the ball. With Chakolis -- a force on the boards and perhaps the state’s best closer -- and a cadre of young and gifted players, all of whom have star potential, Hopkins comes at opponents in waves. It’s a style that intimidates opponents even before they take the floor.
Hopkins' Dlayla Chakolis passes through the Wayzata defense in 2018
“Everybody comes in wanting to give us their best game, but we want them to be afraid of us,” Chakolis said.
With the downtime the two teams have had due to this week’s brutal cold, Chakolis said the Royals have used the time to study video of Wayzata.
“We’ve watched a lot of film,” she said. “We want to know more about them than they do themselves.”
Schrader said the Trojans, who split two regular season games with the Royals last season, have to make sure they don’t fall into Hopkins’ trap.
“They do a good job of speeding up the game and getting other teams to play faster than they’re capable,” Schrader said. “My job is to make sure we stay calm among the chaos.”
Adding to the hoopla, the Hopkins and Wayzata boys’ teams, both top 10 teams in Class 4A, will meet as an opening act for Friday’s main event. Both games are at Hopkins’ Lingbergh Center, with the boys set to tip off at 5:30 and the girls to follow 20 minutes after they conclude.
The game will be livestreamed by prepspotlight.tv
“It will be fun having the boys play first,” Chakolis said. “It’ll will bring more people to our game.”
Said Schrader “It’s going to be a fun night of basketball.”
The two teams are scheduled to meet again in the regular-season finale on Feb. 22.