The Hopkins girls' basketball team rode the wave of three consecutive Class 4A state titles before it was halted by Eden Prairie in last year's Section 6 semifinals, losing 51-46. Players talk about the devastating defeat daily, according to Hopkins coach Brian Cosgriff.

"Last year's loss for us is kind of like the Green Bay loss to Seattle," Cosgriff said of the recent NFC conference football championship game. "It's one of those things that'll stick with you forever."

It's sticking with the Royals this season as motivation, and it seems to be working. Hopkins is 16-1 (3-0) with a 12-game winning streak, including a 70-55 victory over Lake Conference rival Minnetonka last Friday.

Cosgriff preaches poise, intensity and improvement at practice.

"We just want to try and get 1 percent better," he said. "You never want to try to have to go through something like that [section loss] again. … Winning three [state titles] is harder than people think. People just kind of take it for granted. And our kids did."

If anyone can be counted on to lead Hopkins back to the state tournament this season, it might be 5-10 senior guard TT Starks. She's someone with a high basketball IQ whose attitude and passion "is just very infectious," said Cosgriff, who calls Starks the "heart and soul" of the Royals.

"First on the floor, last to leave," Cosgriff said. "There's a reason why she's as good as she is."

Starks is averaging 12.9 points per game this season. She leads the Royals in rebounds with 6.3 per game.

Her will to win and hard work are prime examples of what makes her a great role model for the younger players, according to teammate Nia Hollie. The two have played together since third grade.

"TT's a very interesting player," said Hollie, a junior. "She does a lot of things that most players don't do. Her defense is absolutely amazing."

The road to championships hasn't come without setbacks for Starks, who played for Minneapolis North as a seventh-grader before transferring to the Hopkins varsity team the next year.

A knee injury her sophomore year limited her to a few games at the start and end of that season. She missed the first six games of her junior season because of a torn labrum shoulder injury.

This past summer, she endured another knee injury but was ready to go for game No. 1.

Her love of basketball kept her motivated for each return to the court.

"It was hard," she said. "You have to put in the extra work and stuff, but I think in the end, it'll be worth it."

Winning state titles is "kind of unexplainable" for Starks, who added that "it just feels like you ended your season in the highest way possible." As a younger player, working hard toward a championship was a way to repay the seniors who looked out for her, she said.

For Starks, the difference between last year's team and the championship teams was the increase in first-time varsity players last year.

"So I wouldn't say we were ­inexperienced, but we needed more experience to get the job done," Starks said. "And I would say this year, we have that."

One of the Royals' biggest strengths is being a team that transitions well, according to Starks. If there's one thing it will take to win, Hollie said, it will be improved defense and standing "together under pressure."

"Keeping our composure when the game's on the line," Hollie said, adding that anybody can beat anybody.

Starks will play basketball next year for Iowa State. But before that, she's hungry for one more state title.

"It would mean a lot to me," she said. "It's my last chance to do it.

''So, why not?"