Simley seniors Kylie Brown and Maya DeLao have enjoyed plenty of success on the basketball court together. They have been teammates since fourth grade.
They have also had one major goal elude them since they became members of the varsity in eighth grade — an appearance in the state tournament.
“It was really rough last year,” said Brown, who was one of three Minnesota players to sign a letter-of-intent in November to Creighton in Omaha, Neb.
That’s because the Spartans won a school-record 23 games, but fell short of their quest for a state tournament berth. They lost to Hill-Murray 44-40 in triple overtime in the Class 3A, Section 4 finals.
“That was a tough way to end the season,” Brown said. The Spartans had beaten Hill-Murray in both of its regular season Classic Suburban Conference matchups. “We had a really good season, but it would’ve been better by going to state.”
Once again, expectations are high for the Spartans this season. They welcome back three starters, Brown, DeLao and sophomore Abby Kain.
“We did well last year, and should do pretty good this season, too,” Brown said.
That is, once their three returning starters get healthy. Brown is battling a sprained ankle, DeLao has a hip flexor and Kain is coming off a broken wrist.
“We are fighting some injuries and won’t be full strength until Christmas,” Simley coach Tim Peper said. “We might start slow [they opened the season with two close losses], but I’m expecting a very strong finish.”
Brown, a 6-3 forward, averaged a double-double (13.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game) last year. She is closing in on 1,000 career points to go along with her 1,000 rebounds. She is also nearing 500 blocked shots and 500 assists for her career.
“She is an unbelievably well-rounded player,” Peper said. “We are expecting big things from her this season.”
The 5-7 DeLao has been Peper’s starting point guard since she was an eighth-grader. She averaged eight points and four assists per game as a junior.
“Its’ really hard having to sit out and watch the team right now,” DeLao said.
She hopes to return to action next week.
Kain, a 6-1 forward, also averaged a double-double (15.8 points and 11 rebounds) a year ago. She also is closing in on 1,000 career points.
“We are going to have a good mix of youth and experience,” Peper said. “We have a lot of young kids who I think our going to be good players, but just don’t have that game experience yet. Team chemistry is at an all-time high with this group.”
It’s an intangible the Spartans hope leads to their first state tournament appearance since 2003. Their only other state trip came in 2000.
“It would be a great way to end my career by going to state,” said DeLao, who has directed the Spartans to back-to-back 20-win seasons and 63 victories over the past three years. “I would be very proud.”