MINNEAPOLIS -- It's common knowledge that champions enter the next season with targets on their collective backs. In the 2000 prep girls basketball tournament, Blake and Minneapolis North have targets on their backs -- and their fronts.
No. 2 Blake (20-4) in Class 2 A and Minneapolis North in 3A are two-time defending champions. The tournament starts Tuesday with quarterfinals at nine sites around the state, then continues at Williams Arena Thursday through Saturday.
Blake coach Lea Favor is grateful her team won't have to play Minneapolis North. But she's also thankful they played the Polars earlier this season and lost.
''We've had some bumps in the road,'' Favor said. ''A wake up call was losing to Minneapolis North in the second game. We realized we are mortal,'' she said.
Blake lost just two players from last year's team -- both earned scholarships to Division I schools -- and this year's version of the Bears is quicker, more balanced and able to open up the floor.
''We're a much more defensive team this year,'' Favor said.
Seniors Kate Bauman, a 6-foot-5 center, Kristin Ambrose and Marissa McGuire are the Bears' floor leaders, along with junior guard Charity Clay, a transfer from DeLaSalle.
Bauman has a scholarship to play at Iowa State next year and Ambrose has signed with Virginia. Clay is considered by some to be among the top junior guards in the nation.
Blake plays Jackson County Central in the quarterfinals. The Huskies have never been to a state tournament, but the entire starting lineup started on Jackson County Central's 1999 state champion volleyball team. That experience will no doubt keep the Huskies focused, said coach Derold Voss.
''They've been there before, so as far as being nervous or being overwhelmed, I don't think it's going to happpen,'' Voss said.
No. 5 Minneapolis North (20-5) cruised past St. Louis Park 75-52 to win the 5AAA finals, but the Polars needed an oversized effort from one of their youngest stars just to reach the section final.
In the semifinals, eighth-grader Mia Johnson scored 24 points as North beat No. 7 Richfield 66-59 in double overtime.
North coach Faith Johnson-Patterson said barely escaping with that semifinal win motivated her team for the state tournament.
''We really wanted to get back (to the state tournament) for our four-year seniors who've made it every year, and our eighth-graders so they could get some experience,'' Johnson-Patterson said.
North, which faces North Branch in the quarterfinals, could have its most stringent test this season in the semifinals if No. 6 Cloquet beats No. 2 Alexandria in the first round.
Cloquet (23-2) rolled into the tournament with a 52-27 thumping of Grand Rapids in the 7AAA final Saturday. The win was the 19th straight for the Lumberjacks and it was accomplished with minimal scoring from their best player.
Katie Pavlich, who averages 18 points per game, scored just nine points. Reserve forward Aubree Levinski had 14 and point guard Elizabeth Plante scored 10.
''Teams have been keying on (Pavlich) for good reason,'' said Cloquet coach Dean Levinski. ''She's the only player we have that averages double figures. We've had different players step up at different times, but (the Grand Rapids game) was one of our more balanced performances.''
Cloquet is in the tournament for the first time since 1978, but Levinski said he knows his team won't be intimidated -- especially if the Lumberjacks get to face Minneapolis North.
''That's an opportunity we would certainly relish -- to take a shot at them if that happened,'' Levinski said.
But Levinski said he doesn't think an opportunity to knock off North is the key to motivating his players.
''We beat a fairly good team (Grand Rapids) without playing our best ball, but the girls still have something to shoot for because they know they can play better,'' he said.
If Blake or North don't repeat as champion, there could still be a repeat winner; Brandon/Evansville, last year's Class A champion, qualified again this year.
The No. 7 Chargers (24-2), who face Rothsay (21-5) in the first round, are a veteran team with eight seniors. Debbie Slack, an all-tournament player last year, averages 15.2 points per game.
Brandon/Evansville is the only Class A team that qualified last season.
No. 2 Cretin-Derham Hall was the only 1999 champ not to make the tournament. Roseville beat Cretin 48-41 in the section 2AAAA finals last Wednesday.
No. 3 Roseville's win was no fluke; the Raiders use a strong and big front line of Leala Wegwerth, Wendy Hatlestad and Kelly Van Norma to manhandle opponents.
Cretin-Derham Hall coach Tom Cody said Roseville (22-2) could pose problems in the state tournament.
''You need good coaching, size, a great point guard and seniors,'' he said. ''Roseville has all of them.''
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