Previewing the 2016-17 sports season for Armstrong and Cooper

Sports Editor
Armstrong’s Lauren Clark leaps and follows through on a kill attempt in game action from the 2016 season. (Photo by Mark Cooper running back Nascier Borden dashes past an Armstrong defender and into space during game action from the 2016 season. (Sun Post staff photo by Chris Chesky) The Armstrong/Cooper boys hockey team will look to build off a 2016-17 season in which it captured its first conference title in program history. (Sun Post staff photo by Chris Chesky) Cooper’s Corteze Henderson dashes to the finish line in meet action from the 2017 track and field season. (Sun Post staff photo by Chris Chesky)
The Armstrong/Cooper boys hockey team will look to build off a 2016-17 season in which it captured its first conference title in program history. (Sun Post staff photo by Chris Chesky)

With organized fall sports season practices set to begin next week, the 2017-18 sports season has officially begun.

The few weeks before the start of the season gives every school, every program and every player the chance to dream about what could happen in the upcoming season. Every team has a matching 0-0 record, and every team boasts the same desire to excel.

While not every team will have the chance to take home a state title or advance to the state tournament, now is the time where teams begin to evaluate to see what they might be able to accomplish this season, while fans sit back and predict what could happen to the teams and players they love to watch.

With that being said, here are the top 10 questions to ask as Armstrong and Cooper teams begin their 2017-18 seasons.

Can Cooper football extend its success streak?

One season removed from posting an 8-2 record, the Cooper football team is preparing for a season in which it could play even better. The Hawks return a bulk of their key players from last season, and, with an added year of development, Cooper might be able to push past section foe Spring Lake Park and into the state tournament.

Is this the year Armstrong volleyball goes to state?

The Armstrong volleyball team showed its opponents last season that it deserves consideration as one of the top programs in the state. With incoming junior outside hitter Lauren Clark leading the way, Armstrong has put together a roster of strong young players that should help the Falcons earn a state tournament berth. Head coach Ayesha Khan said at the end of last season that she would be surprised if her team did not advance to state over the next couple of years. If everything goes right for Armstrong, that could happen as soon as this fall.

How far can Aguado take the Falcons?

University of Minnesota-committed goaltender Ana Aguado leads an Armstrong defense that should be considered as one of the top units in the state. Aguado has made a name for herself by consistently shutting down opponents, and the confidence her coaches and teammates have in her has made Armstrong a very strong team. With Aguado set to begin her senior season in just a few weeks, the time is now for Armstrong to make one final run at a state tournament berth with Aguado leading the way.

How will Armstrong hoops fare without Thompson?

While very few were surprised when Armstrong’s Race Thompson announced his commitment to play men’s basketball at Indiana University, many were shocked when he said he was set to forgo his senior year at Armstrong to join Indiana in the fall. While Armstrong has some strong pieces at its disposal, many of the Falcons’ offensive sets were centered around Thompson. With Thompson gone, Armstrong will look to find a new core to its offense while it looks to make a trip to the state tournament.

Can Cooper girls take another step forward?

The Cooper girls basketball team won the Metro West Conference last season and, with the majority of the team’s key players returning, are set to be even better in 2017-18. Head coach Kiara Buford has turned the Hawks into a perennial contender and, while a section championship would be tough with Hopkins standing in the way, Cooper is well-equipped to make a deep section run this season.

Can AC hockey keep up its recent success?

The Armstrong/Cooper boys hockey team set one goal last season: win the Northwest Suburban Conference title. The Wings had that goal on their mind every practice and game, and that determination to succeed led the Wings to their first conference title in program history. While the Wings graduated many key players following last season, the returning players will remember the work it took to achieve the team’s goals, and that should help the Wings maintain a level of competitiveness this season.

Will Armstrong’s Nordic dynasty continue?

The Armstrong Nordic ski program has become one of the best in the state. The Falcons won the Nordic ski title in 2015-16 and followed that up with a runner-up finish last season. While Armstrong graduated a few of its skiers, the program is deep enough to be able to piece together a team that could make a run at a second state title in three years. With the return of Lucy Anderson, who finished the season as arguably the team’s top skier, Armstrong will also have the experience and talent necessary to make a run at another title.

How will Armstrong and Cooper track fare?

The Armstrong and Cooper track and field teams find themselves in different positions as the 2017-18 school year begins. While Armstrong graduated some of its top athletes from the last couple of years, Cooper returns many of its top-tier athletes and the Hawks look to send a representative to the state meet for the first time in two seasons. While the track and field season is still months away, it will be interesting to see what these two teams accomplish in 2018.

Can Armstrong baseball make state leap?

The Armstrong baseball team had a solid 2017 season and that success carried into the summer American Legion season, where the Westphal Armstrong team posted a 13-10-1 record. While the Falcons have graduated many impact seniors, Armstrong also returns several key players from the 2017 season, including one of the team’s top hitters in third baseman Brayden Gray. If the Falcons can build off what they have accomplished in the last few months, Armstrong could push Wayzata and Hopkins for a state tournament berth in 2018.

Can Cooper softball overcome its youth?

The Cooper softball team had just one senior on last year’s roster in Rae Beaner, who head coach Erin Brown called the “heart and soul of the team.” While the Hawks got off to a rough start to the season, Brown, Beaner and the Hawks began to focus on having fun toward the end of the season, and that change in mentality paid off on the field. Cooper began to play much better to end the season, which could help the Hawks take a step forward in 2018. With the majority of the program’s young varsity roster returning, the hawks will look to build off that success and post a strong 2018 campaign.

Follow Sun Post sports editor Chris Chesky on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris and on Facebook at SunSportsStaff.