Nearly 11 months since causing the cancellation of last year’s state championship games, the coronavirus is still very much on the minds of local high school girls’ basketball coaches. For the current season, it’s largely a question of masks, which are required to be worn by all players at all times, and their impact on the way the game is played.

Some coaches say wearing masks makes it difficult for players to perform normal on-court functions. Nova Classical Academy coach John Clarkin said having to breath through masks makes his players tire quicker, “and it makes it harder to communicate on the floor.”

basketball
Highland Park senior center Morgan Jones puts up a shot in traffic during the Scots’ 43-9 season-opening win at home on January 28 against Washington. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Others say the impact of masks has been minor and that teams have learned to adapt. “Actually, I’d say that it’s not a factor at all,” said Henry Sibley coach Harry Jenness Jr. “We’re just glad to be playing. If we have to wear masks, we wear masks. We just need to embrace whatever opportunity we have.”

COVID-19 has affected local girls’ basketball teams in other ways as well. Saint Paul Academy coach Natalie McElligott said several girls opted out of playing this season because of the pandemic. Visitation’s new head coach, Faith Johnson Patterson, said she came out of retirement this season largely in response to the virus.

“Yes, I’d say that it was COVID that got me back into the game,” said Johnson Patterson, who previously oversaw outstanding programs at Minneapolis North and DeLaSalle. “I just had a feeling that I could do something to help. This is a time when you need veteran coaches.”

The girls’ basketball season is now underway. Here’s a look at the local teams:

CENTRAL
League: Saint Paul City
Last year’s record: 11-12
Coach: Marlon McCoy

Key players: senior guard Alayjza Campbell, senior forward Aaliyah Hamilton, junior forward Silvia Murdoch-Meyer, and sophomore guard/forward Anna Rynkiewich.

Outlook: Central has sufficient balance to play both half-court and up-tempo games, and also has both strength on the boards and quickness. “We lost only one senior from last year,” coach McCoy said. “This is my third year and we started from scratch my first year. We should be able to make some strides this season.” Campbell scored 17 points and Hamilton added 13 in Central’s opening 63-18 win over Harding on January 26.

CRETIN-DERHAM HALL
League: Suburban East
Last year’s record: 6-19
Coach: Crystal Flint

Key players: senior point guard Audrey Martinez-Stewart, senior guard Takara Mason, junior forward Anisah Wolf, junior guard Ray’ven Robinson, and freshman point guard Lauren Bengtson.

Outlook: The Raiders should be much improved and could well break into the top three in the conference, according to coach Flint. “I’m very hopeful. On paper we have a veteran team,” she said. The Raiders have four seniors and four juniors who have experience playing quality minutes with both the varsity and JV.

HENRY SIBLEY
League: Metro East
Last year’s record: 12-16
Coach: Harry Jenness Jr.

Key players: senior forward CeCe Bell, senior forward Caroline Anderson, and senior point guard Natalie Parnell.

Outlook: The Warriors have five seniors who will either start or log significant playing time. The club might take until the second half of the season to show off its skills. “This is probably the deepest team we’ve had since I’ve been coach,” Jenness said. “I think we’ll probably be in the middle of the pack.”

HIGHLAND PARK
League: Saint Paul City
Last year’s record: 13-11
Coach: Deb Williams

Key players: senior guard Breyana Turner, senior center Morgan Jones, senior forward Miranda Bade, and junior forward Toni Williams.

Outlook: Highland should be able to score, but defense might be a work in progress. The Scots also lack height, so they might have to rely on outside shooting. Five players opted out of playing this season due to the pandemic. Coach Williams said the key will be making sure that her experienced players “stay out of foul trouble. It’s that simple.”

MINNEHAHA ACADEMY
League: Independent Metro Athletic
Last year’s record: 19-9
Coach: Matt Pryor

Key players: eighth-grade point guard Addi Mack, sophomore forward Aniyah Reuben, freshman shooting guard Anisa Longs, junior forward/guard Telia Graham, and freshman forward Jennica Suggs.

Outlook: The Redhawks lost four of their five starters from last year, but are still ranked among the top 10 in the state in Class AA. They’ll be young, starting one eighth-grader, two freshmen and a sophomore, but Pryor is upbeat. “This is the most talented team I’ve coached since I’ve been at Minnehaha,” he said. “I think (a state title) is attainable.”

NOVA ACADEMY
League: Independent
Last year’s record: 16-8
Coach: John Clarkin

Key players: sophomore guard Bella Arco, and junior point guard Genevie Adelsman.

Outlook: The team will play some strong defense, but is short on experience. Coach Clarkin said that probably half the team is seventh- and eighth-graders, and that they’ll likely take their lumps. “But we’re building our program for the future,” he said.

SAINT PAUL ACADEMY
League: Independent Metro Athletic
Last year’s record: 12-15
Coach: Natalie McElligott

Key players: senior forward Julia Baron, senior guard Annabelle Bond, sophomore forward Lindsay Browne, and junior center Naomi Straub.

Outlook: The Spartans had only nine players on their roster largely because several didn’t come out this season due to COVID concerns. Still, coach McElligott thinks her club will see improvement over a year ago. “We’re very small, but we’re quick and scrappy,” she said. Big upgrades are needed in handling presses by opposing teams and in outside shooting, McElligott added.

VISITATION
League: Tri Metro
Last year’s record: 11-16
Coach: Faith Johnson Patterson

Key players: NA

Outlook: The Blazers return eight players on the varsity, but only one was a starter last year. “Our goal is to show progress—to get better and see where we land,” said Johnson Patterson, who declined to name any key players at this stage of the season. “It’s a process when you’re getting to know your players.”

— Bill Wagner

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