The 2011-12 version of the Cooper girls basketball team set out to accomplish two things – win a conference title, and play for a section championship.
In both instances, the Hawks almost got it done.
And in every sense of the word, despite putting together a 23-5 season, finishing second in the North Suburban Conference and nearly advancing into the Class 4A, Section 6 final, almost was not nearly enough.
“We felt like we could have done more,” said senior Talayiah Rich. “We were good, and we had a good year, but we wanted more out of it. That’s given us some extra motivation this season.”
For Rich, and running mate Chelsey McGee – the most important returning players to this year’s team – there won’t be another chance.
Both are seniors now. In their rear, they’ve helped reform the Cooper girls basketball program, transforming it from a one-victory outfit in 2009-10 to a program that now has 39 games in the two years since then.
But in front of them awaits one final chance take the step they came so close to reaching a year ago; one that remains within reason this year.
“For those two, almost as a junior is one thing. But now they are seniors, and you don’t want almost as a senior,” said head coach Jennifer Rademacher. “It is their time to step up.”
In their first opportunity to showcase their willingness to seize the moment, the duo didn’t disappoint.
McGee had a team-best 17 points, Rich added seven of her own to go with at least that many blocks and around 15 rebounds as Cooper opened its season with a 56-47 victory at highly-regarded Park Center Nov. 27.
More importantly, however, they helped they lightened the load on the rest of the Hawks starting five that was replacing two of its top-four scorers from a year ago in sisters Ashli and Jazmyn Lee.
With the graduation of the Lee sisters, Cooper lost the bulk of its size in the post. Against Park Center, it was hardly noticeable.
“We don’t have the height we did last year,” said Rich. “That means we have to play more defense on the ball, and we have to rebound. We have to play fast. For a first game, it was okay, but we have a long ways to go.”
Junior Laurie Bohler is the only other returning starter back with Cooper this year. Torri Green and Manita Kelly, both bench players last year, have transitioned into starting roles this season.
Jasper McNeal and Hannah DeNure also played plenty in the opener, as Cooper got contributions from everybody in starting the season 1-0.
“It is similar kids, but in different roles,” Rademacher said. “It’s tough at the start. Not including tryouts, you have five days of practice, so it about getting a product on the floor and not beating ourselves. If you make little mistakes, we can fix that. Just play smart and limit turnovers, and I think we did that.”
Cooper will be back in action this week, starting with a road trip to Minnetonka Dec. 4.
The Hawks also host Osseo at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8 before traveling to Wayzata for a 7 p.m. tip Wednesday, Dec. 12.
Wayzata was the team that ended Cooper’s season a year ago, and don’t think that won’t be brought up at some point prior to then.
“We owe them,” said Rich.