1. Favored Royalty
Defending champion Hopkins, the favorite in Class 4A, is seeking its seventh overall title. The Royals have previously won in 2004, 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015. They are led by Michigan State recruit Nia Hollie, who averages 16.5 points per game and is the program’s second all-time leading scorer. Hampton signee Ashley Bates is another standout in a talented starting lineup, averaging 13.7 points. Coach Brian Cosgriff, in his 10th state tournament, has a career 24-3 record in that stretch.
2. Clash of champions
Hopkins’ first-round matchup might be the most intriguing of them all. The Royals will play Park Center, winners of the past two Class 3A titles, Tuesday at 10 a.m. Although Hopkins might seem like a bad draw for Park Center, coach Chris VanderHyde said he doesn’t see it that way. Hopkins defeated Park Center 62-47 in December, though the Pirates trailed by only one point at halftime. That familiarity might be a plus, and if Park Center pulls off an upset, the rest of the bracket becomes much more favorable.
3. Skippers return
Minnetonka is in the state tournament for only the second time in school history and the first time since 1999. The Skippers are led by ferocious rebounder Lizzie Odegard and dangerous scorer Courtney Fredrickson, who is signed to play at Wisconsin. Minnetonka also has plenty of familiarity with the tournament field, going 4-3 against teams in this bracket in the regular season, including a 67-59 victory against Hopkins in January.
4. Eleven and counting
Lakeville North senior Drew Stewart, heralded last week for playing in nine straight state tournaments across three sports, has nothing on St. Michael-Albertville’s Lizzy Heil. The junior will compete in her 11th consecutive state tournament/meet when the Knights meet White Bear Lake at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Heil has qualified for four consecutive cross-country state meets, four girls’ basketball state tournaments and the past three track and field state meets. And she’s still got the upcoming spring season and all of next year to go.
5. Proving ground
White Bear Lake has plenty to prove after going a combined 0-5 in games against tournament teams Minnetonka, St. Michael-Albertville, Eastview and Lakeville North in the regular season. What the Bears lack in star power they make up for with depth. White Bear Lake plays 11 to 12 players deep. Only one player, Alison Hinck, averages double-digits with 10 points per game. Hinck is the program’s only 1,000-point scorer.
CODY STAVENAGEN and JIM PAULSEN