Girls Basketball Class AAAA Championship, Chaska 45, Rosemount 43
Posted: Friday, April 9, 2021 - 8:12 PM
Chaska’s girls basketball program was forced to shut down following a narrow two-point victory over Wayzata on Feb. 26 because of a COVID outbreak in Carver County. The quarantine meant six missed games and two weeks of no practice and seeing one another. Prior to the shutdown, the Hawks resembled a state tournament contender with impressive victories over Lake Conference powers Minnetonka and Wayzata.
But how would the Hawks return from the break? Like they were making up for lost time.
Chaska put the exclamation point on a dazzling postseason, and an undefeated season to boot, by topping an opponent that nearly ground those to a halt with a 45-43 victory over Rosemount in the Class AAAA championship game on Friday, April 9 at Target Center in downtown Minneapolis. Out of a timeout, Chaska executed to perfection a play that allowed senior guard Kaylee Van Eps to finish with a backdoor lay-in with 5.2 seconds remaining that gave the Hawks the first girls basketball championship in program history. The Hawks (18-0) had finished as the Class AAA runner-up in 1998.
It was a fitting conclusion to a season filled with drama, twists, gut-wrenching outcomes, but most of all, a state tournament opportunity for participants.
The final-second heroics were necessary because on the other end junior forward Tayah Leenderts made a layup with 18 seconds remaining to lift Rosemount (20-4) into a 43-all tie. Rosemount, the resilient and scrappy Section 3AAAA representative, didn’t whither when down early and even led once in the final minutes. Rosemount, too, was attempting to win its first girls basketball championship.
In an absolute dizzying sequence of events in the game’s final minutes, Rosemount chipped away at a deficit, took its first lead on a bouncing three-pointer by sophomore guard Nicole O’Neil. In a heartbeat, though, that lead became a four-point deficit as Chaska answered with power and precision, capped by a muscle lay-in from junior forward Mallory Heyer for a 41-37 Chaska advantage with 4:38 remaining. A quick trade of baskets and each team needed a timeout to refuel.
Senior guard Kelsey Willems and Van Eps led the Hawks with 11 points each and sophomore guard Kennedy Sanders had 10.
Rosemount senior forward Helen Staley had 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists as the Irish stayed with the Hawks throughout down the stretch. O’Neil finished with 13.