Cougar sports: Girls basketball team closing in on conference crown

The Como Cougars girls basketball team, front (from left): Autumn Tucker, Raiyne Adams, Bekah Hausman, Dariel McDonald, Normadine Sagbo and Wynter George; back: assistant coaches Danielle Ellison and Jermain Davis, Makayla Van Nett, Aazhra’rae Jackson, Zinash Gjerdrum, Kaitlyn Jones, Monique Baker, Andrayah Adams, Jasmine Thomas and head coach John Robinson.

The Como Cougars girls basketball team, front (from left): Autumn Tucker, Raiyne Adams, Bekah Hausman, Dariel McDonald, Normadine Sagbo and Wynter George; back: assistant coaches Danielle Ellison and Jermain Davis, Makayla Van Nett, Aazhra’rae Jackson, Zinash Gjerdrum, Kaitlyn Jones, Monique Baker, Andrayah Adams, Jasmine Thomas and head coach John Robinson.

The Como Park Senior High School girls basketball team is on the verge of claiming its first St. Paul City Conference championship. After splitting the season series against rival Central High School, with each team winning on the other’s home court, the Lady Cougars are tied for first place in the standings with a 8-1 conference record.

Their overall record of 15-8 has been achieved against high-level competition with Top 10 teams and large suburban schools. They’ve improved by playing those teams and netted a confidence-building win over Burnsville in the Rochester Holiday Tournament in December.

The Bugle went to press with three conference games remaining on the Cougars’ schedule. Como’s average margin of victory against those four teams in their first meetings was 37 points. Nothing in sports is a certainty, but the Cougars will work to repeat those results.

Glance at a Como box score online or in the paper, and a fan will notice one player consistently leads the team in scoring. In fact, junior co-captain Andrayah Adams already leads the state by scoring more than 2,000 points in her high school career. This elite milestone has garnered much media attention for Andrayah.

Mix in college coaches from South Carolina, Arizona State, DePaul, Rutgers, Maryland and the University of Minnesota descending upon the Como gym, and the potential for distraction is high. For some teams, attention on a superstar can be a problem. For the Cougars, it’s been more amusing.

Senior co-captain Zinash Gjerdrum explained that cameras and reporters hawking Andrayah is “kind of funny and fun. We were playing Harding last Friday and Channel 5 News showed up on the floor during our warm-ups. (The media attention) is a little awkward, but we’re proud of her.”

Head coach John Robinson, an educational assistant at Como, is in his seventh year leading the program. Robinson stresses “togetherness,” and it’s easy to see the results of that emphasis when team members speak about each other. Adams always uses terms of “we” and “us,” while Gjerdrum is quick to say success has come from every teammate doing her job. They all embrace their roles.

Monique Baker is a strong defender and physical player. Kaitlyn Jones brings fire to the team and fights for every rebound in the post. Bekah Hausman is the team’s second leading rebounder, using the fundamental skill of boxing out her taller opponents.

Baker, Jones and Hausman would constitute Como’s inside post presence—where the “bigs” are. Jones and Baker might be 5 foot 10 inches. Hausman is listed as 5 foot 7 inches. It is common for the Cougars to be outsized.

How do they combat this? Robinson says they “counter with speed and athleticism.” A few fearless freshmen have helped in that area. Raiyne Adams is Andrayah’s sister and a defensive stopper with lots of energy. Makayla Van Nett is quick and growing into the role of a point guard. Autumn Tucker also brings spark onto the court.

The mix of veterans and newcomers first came together with their off-season work. While playing at open gyms helped develop skills, it might be the dirty work that helped build the togetherness they value.

Dirty work? Yes indeed. Someone has to clean up those horse stalls after Coliseum shows at the state fairgrounds. Como’s basketball captains attest the team has shoveled “a lot of horse manure.”

To understand why, consider that sweatpants, hoodies and T-shirts are not part of Como’s athletic budget. To represent your school and team with Como gear, you’ve got to raise some funds.

The hard work of fundraising has created a unique bond among these dedicated girls. From their labor in the barns on hot summer nights, to their winning ways this winter, the Lady Cougars are creating history as a team, together as one.

Eric Erickson teaches at Como Park High School and has coached several school and youth sports teams in St. Paul over the past 20 years. Follow him at [email protected] for current school sports news.

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