There’s an air of confidence surrounding the St. Michael-Albertville girls’ basketball squad this season that might not have been present in coach Kent Hamre’s last three or four runs to the State AAAA Tournament.
The Knights, boasting a 24-3 record with wins over top teams such as Lakeville North, Wayzata and Minnetonka, know they belong at Target Center in the “big dance.” That’s been the goal since the balls hit the hardwood on Day One.
First, the state’s third-ranked team will have to top a fifth-ranked Elk River team that gave them fits for about 20 minutes the last time the two teams met – about four weeks ago. The two meet in the Section 8-4A Championship tonight at 7 p.m. in Monticello.
“It’s a group that’s confident, they have a lot of leadership out there on the floor and they’ve had these goals in mind since before practice started,” Hamre, who has yet to win a tournament game at the 4A level, but has racked up Section 8 titles like they’re going out of style, said. “They’ve faced a lot of tough competition, and they’ve handled it very well.”
The Knights are 24-3, and could just as easily be 26-1. Hopkins, which beat STMA by 10 early in the year, is the only team that can boast they handled the Knights’ defensive pressure and found a way to win. The two others – Edina and Eden Prairie – dodged bullets as the Knights missed opportunities to upset their 4A counterparts.
“Our defense is our offense. Defense wins championships and we’ve seen that,” said sophomore guard Rae Johnson, who is among the team’s leaders in steals and leads the squads in assists. “Our defense is our offense. It brings us energy. We bring the intensity and that gets us going on the floor. When we turn the other team over, that starts our offense.”
The Knights can bring it in different ways. Against a team that has a limited number of ball handlers (guards), they’ll pressure full court and deny the point guard the ball. That spelled trouble for the Trojans and Panthers (Wayzata and North). Against a team with good guard play, the smother the perimeter in the half court – which is what turned a tough game against Rogers in the home finale into a Knights victory.
The team’s leader on offense, and defense, is guard Bobbi Brendefur, who leads the team with 15 points and four steals per game.
“She’s vocal, and she brings energy to us,” Johnson said. “You can hear her on the floor. She’s intense. And she brings that every game.”
“We expected Bobbi to really step up her game this season and she’s had a great senior year,” Hamre said. “She needs to rein that energy in sometimes, but when she plays with the flow of the game she can change it. She made plays on defense that really can turn a game and she uses that to get the offense going.”
The Knights’ size will be key against Elk River, and they’ll rely on senior Jordyn Walker and junior Syndey Tracy. Walker leads the squad with six rebounds per game.
The Elks will rely on 6-foot, 2-inch junior Abby Schied, who poured in 40 points in the Elks’ win over Rogers. The Knights will counter that with, undoubtedly, some zone defense to deny the ball inside. And, STMA will send plenty of big players at Scheid, who had just 19 the last time these two teams met.
The winner, of course, will advance to the 4A tournament, which kicks off next Wednesday at Target Center. The State semifinals and finals will be played at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus.