By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
The St. Michael-Albertville girls’ basketball team had three things on its agenda prior to the basketball season tipping off last November.
Before Tuesday’s matchup with Rogers, the Knights were inching closer to all three of their goals.
“Our goal was to win the conference, reach 20 wins and get back to state,” said Hamre, who last season achieved all of the above – minus the conference title.
STMA picked up two more road wins last weekend. It included a 50-38 win Jan. 31 at Cambridge-Isanti and a 53-45 victory Feb. 1 at Anoka.
As of Monday, the Knights (17-3 overall) were riding a season-high nine-game winning streak. They started the week ranked No. 8 in the latest Class 4A polls.
“As the old cliché goes, take it one game at a time,” Hamre said. “I honestly believe our girls don’t follow personal stats or care too much about rankings. I think they just love playing the game. We’re not going to win any individual honors, but we’re a deep team and some nights a few kids are going to be disappointed because of their minutes.”
While another of their wins the past month have been by lopsided scores, last week was anything but that. Battling a few nagging injuries, the Knights struggled mightily in the opening half of last Friday’s win at Isanti.
“They were frustrated at halftime,” said Hamre, whose team held a narrow 19-18 margin through one half of play. “We missed about a dozen shots in the paint and it was just one of those nights where things weren’t falling.”
On a night when leading scorers Natalie Van Wyhe and Bobbi Brendefur were held in check, it was the play of junior Erin Autio that made the difference. The six-foot forward scored 11 points and collected a season-high 17 rebounds in the 12-point win.
“We challenged her to be stronger on the boards and she was up for the challenge,” Hamre said.
Probably the biggest challenge since losing back-to-back games to Edina and Wayzata nine games ago came in their contest Feb. 1 at Anoka.
The Tornadoes (13-7) were also hot. Winners of five games in a row playing in the always rugged Northwest Suburban Conference, someone’s streak had to end.
“They are an excellent team,” Hamre said. “They beat Centennial this year, who in turn was the only team to knock off Hopkins so far. They have a big physical team who plays a tough schedule.”
The Knights were not intimidated. Despite nagging injuries to senior Makenzie Bebo, Jordan Hansen and Nicole Westrum, STMA took a 24-21 lead into the half.
The lack of offense was of no surprise against a Tornadoes team that only allows 48 points per game. In turn, the Knights rank as one of the best defensive teams in the state, allowing only 38.8 points per game.
With the game still in doubt, Anoka took a three-point lead with a little over seven minutes left in regulation. After a time out, Hamre went back to his old tricks to help secure the 53-45 win.
“With about five minutes left, we went to a full-court press,” Hamre said. “It was a gut check. Playing with a short bench and some tired girls, it turned out to be the big difference in the game.”
Senior post Bre Grube played a big role in the win, collecting eight rebounds against a much bigger and physical team.
The Knights hosted Rogers on Tuesday night (results next week) and Friday night at 7:15 p.m. they are at Buffalo.