Previewing the 2016-17 sports season for Brooklyn Center, Champlin Park and Park Center

Sports Editor
Champlin Park’s Ernest Worjloh dashes past a Blaine defender during game action from the 2016 season. (Photo by Brian Flanary) Champlin Park’s Izzy Ashburn sets a teammate in game action from the 2016 Class 4A state title game. (Photo by Brian Flanary) Park Center’s Meghan DuBois looks to set up a play in game action from the 2016-17 Class 4A state tournament. (Sun Post staff photo by Chris Chesky) Champlin Park’s Max Loven delivers a pitch in game action from the 2017 season. (Photo by Brian Flanary)
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Park Center’s Meghan DuBois looks to set up a play in game action from the 2016-17 Class 4A state tournament. (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 Brooklyn Center, Champlin Park and Park Center teams begin their 2017-18 seasons.

Can Park Center soccer return to state?

The Park Center boys soccer team was consistently ranked among the top teams in the state in Class 2A in 2016 before its season ended with a loss to Mounds View in the section opener. Despite the loss, Park Center is confident it will be able to bounce back this season. While the Pirates lost some key pieces to graduation after last season, Park Center returns numerous strong pieces from last year’s team, including leading scorer Justin Naklen. If the Pirates can build off their success from last season, Park Center should find a way to advance to the state tournament for the first time since the 2015 season.

A repeat dream season for Rebels football?

The Champlin Park football team posted a 5-3 record during the regular season, but a strong finish to the season on offense, defense and special teams led the Rebels to a Class 6A state tournament berth. While quarterback Chad Costello, who led Champlin Park to the state semifinals last season despite an injured foot, has graduated, as well as some other key pieces, the Rebels return many key pieces that should help them continue to play well. If Champlin Park can build off its success from last season, the Rebels could be well-equipped to make another run at the state tournament.

Can Champlin Park volleyball continue its dominance?

The Champlin Park volleyball team has advanced further in the state tournament in each of the last three years, with the Rebels’ state experience culminating with a runner-up finish last season. While Champlin Park lost some key players, namely Ms. Volleyball and two-time Gatorade Player of the Year Sydney Hilley, a strong core of incoming juniors and sophomores should help Champlin Park continue to succeed this season. With head coach John Yunker returning to the team, he will look to build a new core for his program, as well as continue to produce on the court.

Will Centaur football thrive under Licciardi?

The Brooklyn Center football team posted a 3-5 record last season despite having switched head coaches just days prior to the start of the season. Brooklyn Center will not have that same worry this season, as the Centaurs hired former Osseo assistant and Brooklyn Center alum John Licciardi to be the team’s head coach. So far, Licciardi has been demanding the best from his players, and weight room sessions and preseason work have shown that Brooklyn Center is prepared to thrive under the leadership of its new head coach. With many key players coming back to the team for their senior seasons, Brooklyn Center will look to make Licciardi’s first campaign a successful one.

Can Park Center girls hoops continue its success?

The Park Center girls basketball team thrived for four years under the leadership of since-departed seniors Mikayla Hayes, Ann Simonet and Danielle Schaub. With those three leading the way, Park Center won two Class 3A state titles and advanced to the Class 4A state tournament in each of the last two seasons. With those three gone, as well as head coach Chris VanderHyde, Park Center’s returning players and new head coach Barb Metcalf will look to keep up the Pirates’ recent string of successful seasons.

How will Champlin Park boys basketball respond?

The Champlin Park boys basketball team was consistently ranked as the top team in Class 4A last year, but fell just short of state championship with a loss to Apple Valley in the Class 4A state title game. With seniors McKinley Wright and Theo John, as well as many others, leading the way, there was little doubt Champlin Park would reach the state tournament. This year figures to be much different, as just a few players return to the varsity team this season. With many new players set to join the Champlin park roster, the Rebels will look to re-define themselves this season as they look to return to the state tournament.

Can Rebels Nordic extend success streak?

The Champlin Park boys Nordic ski team has had back-to-back successful seasons after being considered a surprise team in the Northwest Suburban Conference. The Rebels have taken home two straight conference titles and have twice earned berths in the state meet. With many of the team’s top skiers having graduated following the end of the 2016-17 season, the Rebels will look much different this season, but Champlin Park will look to have some of its returning skiers improve enough to help the Rebels extend their success streak.

Who will stand out for Pirates’ track team?

The Park Center track and field team has built a recent trend of sending different athletes to the Class 2A state meet each season. While Feyisayo Ayobamidele, four straight state appearances, was the lone consistent for the Pirates, her graduation means it is time for someone else to step up for Park center. Her brother, triple jumper Stephen Ayobamidele, joined her at the state meet in 2017, and, while he will be returning to the Pirates this season, he hopes not to advance to the state meet alone. With many strong athletes returning to the program, Park Center hopes at least one of them will be able to make the leap to state in 2018.

What’s next for Champlin Park baseball?

Very few outside the Champlin Park baseball team’s dugout thought the Rebels would return to the Class 4A state tournament in 2017. After losing 14 seniors, many of which were key players, after the 2016 season, the Rebels returned just two starters from the 2016 campaign, but yet were able to win the Section 5AAAA tournament and advance to state. Champlin Park will have to re-tool yet again in 2018, but, with many impact players set to return, there is hope Champlin Park can have another big season.

Will Champlin Park sports win a state title?

Yes, I know I asked this same question in last year’s edition of this column, but the Rebels are still looking for their first team state title in school history. While eighth-grade gymnast Chaney Neu won the state all-around gymnastics title last year, Champlin Park earned five state berths in different sports (football, volleyball, boys basketball, boys Nordic skiing and baseball) but a team did not take home the state title. Winning the school’s first team state title will again be the top priority for every Champlin Park sports team.

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