Season's top story lines

Cruisin' the Lake

Tell me if you've heard this before: The epicenter of girls' basketball in the metro is the Lake Conference. Hopkins, featuring Paige Bueckers and a stellar supporting cast of Angie Hammond, Dlayla Chakolis, Raena Suggs and Kira Mosley, a transfer from Eden Prairie, is the No. 1 team in Class 4A. Wayzata, which gained a pair of transfers that will take the pressure off top junior Kallie Theisen, is right on the Royals' heels. Minnetonka is big and balanced but needs to find a steady hand in the backcourt to get the Skippers into their offense. Edina is transitioning to a guard-centric attack after losing last year's twin posts. Eden Prairie has replaced coach Faith Patterson with the ultra-organized Ellen Wiese, who spent 2016-17 as an assistant at the University of St. Thomas.

Another Elk River?

Few outside of Elk River saw the Elks' magical, undefeated Class 4A championship season coming. Looking back, the signs were there — a high-end senior-dominated starting five — but those types of seasons require a large dollop of good fortune, too. Is there a team this year that could make a better-than-expected run? Two come to mind. Lakeville North's early season schedule is brutal, with games against Minnetonka (73-63 victory), Wayzata (72-71 overtime loss), Centennial and Eastview among their first six. But the Panthers will be battle-tested by the time the South Suburban conference season rolls around. DeLaSalle, meanwhile, got schooled by Mahtomedi 51-36 in Saturday's Breakdown Classic, but is as loaded as any team in Class 3A. The Islanders will be tough to beat by season's end.

Small schools, big talent

Beyond the large shadow cast by big-school metro programs are players worth watching at smaller schools. Heritage Christian guard Taylie Scott leads the Eagles in pursuit of their first Class 1A tournament berth. Maranatha, a perennial Class 1A favorite, moves up to Class 2A but has 6-1 forward Jaclyn Jarnot to help smooth out the bumps. Watertown-Mayer will lean on their rapidly improving 6-3 post Monika Czinano, an Iowa recruit. Blake coach Kelly Vang raves about junior guard Robbie Grace. Norwood Young America's 6-3 center Bren Fox is a double-double machine (15.8 ppg, 12.6 rpg) who is also a volleyball star, as are Mayer Lutheran's talented duo of Maddy Hucky and Mya Chmielewski.

Jim Paulsen