PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL / CROMWELL-WRIGHT 78, MOUNTAIN IRON-BUHL 58
CROMWELL - Taya Hakamaki tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in the first game last season, a 75-64 loss at Northland power Mountain Iron-Buhl.
Hakamaki played five games on the injured knee before having surgery, giving her an opportunity to play alongside her older sister, Teana, a 2018 graduate, but surgery was the smart thing to do to prevent further damage.
Hakamaki is back and better than ever, as evidenced on Monday as the junior guard scored 31 points in the Cardinals' 78-58 victory over eighth-ranked MIB, displaying a versatile game in the process. Shaily Hamkamaki added 26 points, often finishing around the rim on pinpoint passes from her cousin.
"It's been forever since we've beaten them, so this is insane," Taya Hakamaki said. "Earlier in the season we played them tough on their home court (a 57-49 loss on Dec. 28), so that boosted our confidence because we knew we had the potential to beat them. It's just so exciting."
MIB, the News Tribune's top-ranked small school team, had won 112 straight games against Northland teams since a 52-50 setback to North Woods on Jan. 17, 2013.
Cromwell-Wright hadn't beaten MIB since 2010, the last year current assistant Dave Foster served as Cardinals head coach.
"None of us pay attention to that," MIB coach Jeff Buffetta said. "Cromwell has a great program. We have a lot of respect for them. Over the years they could have beaten us many times, but we had the upper hand. Everything went right for them and nothing went right for us. Today wasn't our day. It was theirs."
Buffetta wouldn't make excuses, but starting center Mattison Bennett felt chest pains in warmups and was taken to a hospital, and fellow senior Macy Savela later went out with a shoulder injury.
Madison Overbye had 12 points to lead the Rangers (15-3).
Buffetta wasn't hitting the proverbial panic button.
"We'll be back later in the season. We're not going anywhere," he said. "The goal now is to learn from this."
Cromwell-Wright (12-1) set the tone from the start, jumping to a 12-0 lead. The Cardinals later led 35-17. MIB trimmed the margin to 40-32 early in the second half before Cromwell-Wright regained control, leading by as many as 31 points, something you just don't see against the Rangers.
"Our defense, especially in that first half, was the best I've seen," said Cardinals coach Jeff Gronner, still nursing a cracked rib after slipping on ice two weeks ago. "We got loose balls, we worked the boards and kept them in front of us. That didn't happen the first game."
And leading the way was the 5-foot-7 Taya Hakamaki, who did a little of everything in this one - steals, assists, inside-outside basketball. In a two-minute span of the second half, she converted a three-point play after a circus shot in the lane. Then she made a 3-pointer from NBA range, prompting one fan to say, "She does it all."
Gronner said Minnesota Duluth is "after her big time. She's legit."
Hakamaki has visited UMD, Winona State and Minnesota State-Mankato and also has received interest from NCAA Division I North Dakota.
While MIB has been the gold standard for Northland basketball, Cromwell-Wright has been overshadowed a bit. The Cardinals made the state tournament in 2016 and 2017, but that was coming out of Section 5A.
MIB, which has made eight straight state tournaments, prides itself on its press, but it's not so easy to do against the Cardinals, not with Taya Hakamaki dribbling around opponents like they're wearing concrete sneakers.
"After that big run in the first half, I knew defensively we could stop them," Hakamaki said. "We just couldn't let them make a big run in the second half. And once we were able to inbound the ball to me, they laid off on their press because they know I can dribble through it."
Mtn. Iron-Buhl 25-33-58
Mountain Iron-Buhl - Jacie Kvas 2, Macy Savela 2, Brooke Niska 10, Miah Gellerstedt 9, Allie Negen 6, Sage Ganyo 6, Madison Overbye 12, Ava Butler 3, Jordan Zubich 2, Lauren Maki 6. Totals 22 5-12 58.
3-point goals - Gellerstedt 2, Ganyo, Overbye 4, Butler, Maki.
Cromwell-Wright - Taya Hakamaki 31, Shaily Hakamaki 26, Natalee Hakamaki 4, Liz Risacher 6, Andrea Pocernich 3, Amber Collman 6, Jordan Jokinen 2. Totals 29 10-14 78.
3-point goals - T. Hakamaki 3, S. Hakamaki 4, Risacher 2, Pocernich.