Unrelenting schedule greets Park Center girls

Park Center junior Cayla McMorris eyes down a Robbinsdale Cooper defender during the Pirates 51-47 season opening defeat at home Nov. 27. Park Center opens its NWSC season this week. (Photo by Nick Clark – Sun Newspapers)

There were going to be bumps, especially early.

Regardless of the talent and experience Park Center’s girls basketball team was playing with, that much was inevitable.

The Pirates schedule is just too relentless.

But, as head coach Patty Sorensen explained to her club following a season opening 57-48 home loss to Cooper Nov. 27, now is not the time to measure success.

“Oh no,” said Sorensen. “We are a body of work. We’ll measure ourselves when it matters. All these early games will do is provide us a chance to see where we are at, and get better. We just want to be playing our best at the end.”

For two years running, that’s been on the cusp of a state tournament berth. Park Center has had its season end with a loss to DeLaSalle in the Class 3A, Section 5 final each of the past two years.

The hope is this year leads to a third straight section championship game, albeit with a different result.

But long before Park Center can entertain those thoughts, the Pirates will have to navigate an early portion of their schedule that offers absolutely no breaks.

It started with that loss to Cooper, which was a top-10 team in Class 4A much of last year and is expected to be again this winter.

It also included a 75-68 defeat to Braham Dec. 1, when the Pirates watched as Rebecca Dahlman became the first Minnesota girls basketball player to surpass the 4,000 points for a career with her 41-point effort against Park Center.

This week, the schedule turns to league play. Park Center opened the Northwest Suburban Conference season at Champlin Park Dec. 4, and then hosted Maple Grove at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6.

Next week, they go to Armstrong Dec. 11, and then host Centennial Dec. 18. And the following week will begin with a road trip to defending Class 4A state runner-up Osseo.

“There are no easy games,” said junior forward Cayla McMorris. “But we like it that way. It is really good competition to play all these teams right away. It should be good for us.”

Awe, the big picture.

Sorensen was hoping her team would see the early portion of their schedule for what it is worth. Losses don’t matter as much, as long as the girls are improving, and getting comfortable in what is a number of new roles.

McMorris and sophomore Hannah Schaub are the only two starters back from last year’s 18-11 team.

Combined, they averaged nearly 30 points a game in 2011-12 – McMorris had an 18.2 average, and Schaub was at 9.7 – but there is plenty of growing to be done around them.

Seniors Hollie Sorensen, Kate Simonet and Kylie Browen are all new to the starting five, and much of the team’s bench is adjusting to getting varsity minutes in a reserve role.

There’s not a lot of size in the bunch, but so be it. There never is at Park Center

“My kids tend to play physical when they are small, but right now, our focus is just trying to utilize what we have,” Sorensen said. “We graduated quite a few. We only return two starters. So we are getting people in sync. There are a lot of new roles, and we are playing the toughest schedule we’ve had in my 15 years here, so it might take a little time.”