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A season for big things? With returning starters, Park has high hopes this year

With the returning senior trio of Taylor Johnson (11), Riley Perryman and Molly Wenner, the Park girls basketball backcourt will be in excellent shape this winter. John Molene / contributor

With four veteran varsity starters returning — including three standout guards — expectations are running high in Cottage Grove this season for the Park High Wolfpack.

"I think this group is able to go as far as they want to physically go," said Stephanie Tolkinen, who is in her 13th season as the Park head girls basketball coach and 18th year overall at Park. "I think that this is probably going to be one of those years that we could do anything that they want to do, whether it win the conference, with the section, finally make it to state.

"I don't think anything is unthinkable for this group," Tolkinen added.

Park welcomes back starting guards Molly Wenner, Taylor Johnson and Riley Perryman, along with post veteran Delaney Young. All four have been playing for the Wolfpack varsity since they were freshmen.

"If they can think it, if they can dream it, this group has the potential to do it, to make it happen," said Tolkinen. "I think they're capable of it. But it's more that I'm putting it on them to make it happen."

Wenner (8.8 ppg), Johnson (10.1 ppg) and Perryman (10.5 ppg) can fill up either with outside shooting or drive to the hoop. At 5-foot-10, Young isn't the biggest post player around, but she can score (9.8 ppg) and rebound above her height.

"I just think this year is finally going to be the year for us," said Perryman. "We've been kind of developing since my freshman year. And last year we did a lot of things that other teams didn't think we could do. And so I think this year is the pick-up from last year."

Chloe Venegas, a senior guard and newcomer to Park, will likely round out the starting fivesome. That will give the Wolfpack five senior starters. Everyone off the bench will be juniors and sophomores.

Junior Saren Croker, a 5-8 guard/forward, was the team's sixth man last season and should likely fill that role again this season.

Park was a mode of inconsistency last season. The Wolfpack won just two of their first seven games, then climbed back to even their record at 6-6. Park then promptly dropped six straight games in the middle of the season before closing strong by winning seven of eight.

The Wolfpack ended at 7-9 in the conference, tied for sixth, and 13-14 overall. The Wolfpack knocked off both East Ridge and Roseville in the final week of the regular season, likely knocking both teams out of claiming sole possession of the conference crown.

But then Park lost a heartbreaker to an average Hastings team 48-47 in a section quarterfinals game to end the season.

But with Perryman, Wenner, Johnson, Young and Croker all returning, the Wolfpack are eyeing a much better finish this season.

"My expectations are that we play super hard," said Young. "Like our defense is everything because we work so hard on it. And then our offense gets built in and we make plays out of it."

The Wolfpack go into the season with considerable strengths.

"Their camaraderie, they will play for each other, not just with each other," said Tolkinen. "And I think that can be a divisive difference in one team to another, is just how much they can trust each other on the court and play together. They're not a selfish team at all. And that's what makes them so special and unique. Since they were in fifth, sixth grade, it doesn't matter who scores as long as the Wolfpack scores. And they've brought that mentality all the way to here."

Park opened the season at Eagan Tuesday, Nov. 28.