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Girls' basketball: Royals to build around star guard Hakes

Standout guard Rachel Hakes returns to lead the Royals this season. John Molene / contributor

Similar to crosstown rival East Ridge, the Woodbury Royals lost a lot of talent off last year's girls basketball team.

Unlike the Raptors, however, the Royals have a star to build around in do-everything 5-10 all-star guard Rachel Hakes.

Hakes may be called upon to carry an even heavier load for the Royals this season, a year before she departs to play basketball for Fairfield University.

Woodbury was 15-13 overall and 9-7 in the Suburban East Conference last year, tying for fifth.

The Royals lost to East Ridge 59-51 in the second round of section tournament tournament last season.

Four starters are gone from that team in Cam Veenbaas, Elizabeth Jordahl, Cecile Kieger and Ellie Kreibich.

But the one who is returning is a player any coach would be pleased to build around, star guard Hakes. A four-year starter, three-time all-SEC selection as well as a three-year captain, Hakes averaged 15 points a game last season. She's also been a team leader in rebounds and steals.

While the Royals lost four senior starters from last season's team, everybody else on the roster returns. The key for the Royals will be finding the right players and right combinations to fill varsity roles this winter.

"I think this group is very young this year, however very athletic," said Woodbury head coach Megan Kirchenwitz. "I think they're going to surprise a lot of our opponents that we play."

One of those positions will undoubtedly be filled by 6-0 junior forward Solape Amusan, who was the first player off the bench for the Royals last season.

"Solape got a lot of varsity minutes last year," said Kirchenwitz. "But (they are the) most athletic group of five that I've ever put on the floor here. Less experienced, but more athleticism."

Woodbury's speed and athleticism are strengths this season. The biggest weakness is probably the team's youth and a lack of varsity playing time.

"I think we'll be able to score a lot more points out of transition offense," said Kirchenwitz. "I think this group athletically can do some things differently than we've had groups in the past as far as being able to run some different zone defenses and get up and down the floor. Our post players are a little quicker.

"Our biggest weakness is our basketball IQ," Kirchenwitz added. "And I think it's going to grow a ton over the course of the season. We only have four juniors and seniors combined. It's a good problem to have."

With a loaded SEC to contend with again, Kirchenwitz believes the Royals can contend for a top-half finish.

"I do think this team can get 15-plus wins," Kirchenwitz said. "I feel like this team is going to have a huge jump in their basketball IQ over the course of a season. They're going to grow a ton as far as their understanding of the game and their team chemistry. Many of these kids played JV together but didn't play a ton of varsity minutes. So they've got nothing to lose. That's what I love."

Woodbury opens the season Tuesday, Nov. 28, at Lakeville North.