They may not match the drama, but three Park Center girls’ basketball seniors hope to end their careers the way they began.
Mikayla Hayes, Danielle Schaub and Ann Simonet led the Pirates to a Class 3A championship in triple overtime as freshmen in 2014. All three wound up in the spotlight against Marshall after senior star Cayla McMorris fouled out late in regulation. The ninth-grade trio carried the Pirates in the overtimes to a 73-71 victory at Williams Arena.
“That game by far is still my top favorite game,” Simonet said. “Even when we won [state] the next year, that game still was my favorite game.”
Park Center won back-to-back 3A titles followed by a 4A state tournament appearance in 2016. The Pirates moved up a class in 2015 due to enrollment numbers but it didn’t slow down their big three and company.
“I just reflect back when they were all freshmen,” Pirates coach Chris VanderHyde said. “Obviously now, they’re stronger, they’re more athletic, they’re bigger [and] they’re tougher, which is a big deal.”
Virtually the same Pirates squad from last March returns with hopes for another run. Hayes, a senior center who has committed to Florida, said the continuity will help.
“That’s not really like it is for a lot of other teams,” Hayes added.
Most teams don’t have a post player heading to the SEC either. Hayes gives the Pirates a dangerous force in the paint on both sides of the court.
“She’s giant compared to everyone in high school still,” Simonet said.
Park Center also has an experienced back court in senior guards Schaub and Simonet. Schaub sets up the offense at the point but can shoot, too. Simonet has a dangerous outside shot. They also play stingy defense. Both signed with Division II programs in early November, with Schaub committing to Concordia (St. Paul) and Simonet to Minnesota Duluth.
Park Center’s talent doesn’t end with its senior trio, though. Junior guard Sommer Blakemore emerged last season as a key player.
“Sommer could be one of the best guards in the state this year,” VanderHyde said.
VanderHyde anticipates key contributions from several other younger varsity players. It could help alleviate the loss of senior Feyisayo Ayobamidele, a quick and defensive-minded forward who helped the Pirates win two titles. Ayobamidele opted to focus on track since signing to run with Division I North Dakota State.
“She’s a very, very big loss because she’s been on the team as long as anyone else since ninth grade,” Schaub said.
Park Center has other hurdles too. Outside of Hayes’ 6-3 frame, the team doesn’t have anyone over 5-9.
“What we lack in size, we make up for in heart,” Schaub said.
Schaub embodies that. A 5-4 guard, Schaub started as a freshman when her older sister, Hannah, went down with an ACL tear. The younger Schaub simply guided the offense on the way to the program’s first state title.
The connection on the court for Schaub, Simonet and Hayes dates back to when they first played together in the fourth grade.
“When we’re on the court together, it’s my favorite time because we all know each other so well,” Simonet said.
That chemistry goes beyond the hardwood, too. They consider themselves the best of friends.
“We all get along well, so getting along off the court has really helped us on the court as well too,” Hayes said.
They hope the conclusion of their senior year will be a bookend of their freshman season, hoisting a state championship trophy on the Williams Arena floor.