Hayfield's 'Big Three' have carried girls basketball program to great heights

Feb. 1—If there were such a thing as a lifetime achievement award given to a trio of basketball teammates, Hayfield's Chelsea Christopherson, Natalie Beaver and Kristen Watson would get serious consideration.

Those three — all finally seniors — have been Vikings starters since their freshman year. Hayfield has gone 14-7, 32-2, 29-5 and its current 18-2 in that stretch, reaching the state tournament the last two seasons.

The constant through all of that winning has been 5-foot-6 guard Christopherson, 5-4 guard Watson and 5-10 forward Beaver. In those four years, they've combined for 4,484 points, 1,849 rebounds, 944 steals and 866 assists.

"All of them are really competitive and in different ways," said Hayfield coach Kasey Krekling, who's been directing Christopherson and Beaver in basketball since the fourth grade (Watson moved to Hayfield as a seventh-grader). "Kristen is more vocal, Natalie is a quiet assassin with her 3-point shooting and Chelsea is a quiet one, too, but you can tell by her face that she doesn't like to get scored on. She takes it personally."

The two who have gotten the most attention are Watson and Beaver, both of them All-State the last two years. Watson, Hayfield's all-time leading scorer (2,107 points), is a fast and strong point guard who is also a thief on defense (school-record 421 steals). Beaver is a smooth forward with a golden outside shooting touch (second all-time at Hayfield with 1,856 points). She's also an elite rebounder and Hayfield's career leader there (835 boards).

Christopherson is one who has mostly gone under the radar. That is despite her massive value.

"Chelsea gets overlooked a lot, but there are so many things she does for us," Watson said. "She plays lock-down defense and she stays calm under all circumstances. Plus, she's a great athlete."

Krekling loads responsibility on Christopherson and the senior guard just keeps answering the call. In a recent win over Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, the Buccaneers chose to devote the vast amount of their defensive energy to Watson and Beaver. That often left Christopherson open for shots. She took full advantage, scoring 20 points and the Vikings avenged their only Gophers Conference loss from a year ago, prevailing 54-45.

Christopherson, who leads the team in assists, is there to fill in any blanks that Krekling sees on a given night. This season, she averages 9.4 points, 6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.9 steals per game. But she is especially there to play defense, almost always guarding the other team's top player.

"Chelsea is quick and she's one of our strongest kids," Krekling said. "She's been in the weight room six to seven times per week for the last three years. Even on Sundays, she wants me to open it up for her. She is one of the easiest kids I've had to coach. She does whatever we ask and she's never missed a morning shootaround.

Christopherson looks with fond appreciation at what's happened the last four years. And being able to team with fellow senior stars Watson and Beaver has been special.

"To have three of us part of the varsity for this long, it's given us great connections," Christopherson said. "Everyone is in such a good rhythm now. It makes me sad that it is going to come to an end, but it makes me happy to see where we can go this season. We're going to just keep cherishing the moments."

The thought of these three not being a part of things next season makes nobody sadder than Krekling. It's been an incredible run with them.

"I get on them still, but they know how much they mean to me," Krekling said. "This team has a lot of fun; they are hilarious. It makes practice fun. I'm never dreading practice."

Evy Goldsmith, Chatfield

A senior forward, Goldsmith was historic on Jan. 26 in Chatfield's 81-55 win over Southland. Goldsmith did that with a school-record 41 points. One night before that, Goldsmith hinted at big things to come with 26 points and nine rebounds in a win over Lewiston-Altura. Goldsmith's numbers against Southland were off the charts: 14-for-17 from the field, 5-for-5 on 3-pointers, 8-for-9 on free throws, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals.

Ava Miller, Mayo

Jan. 20 turned into a massive night for Miller, Mayo's 6-foot-2 star center. Miller used the impressive 78-51 win over Winona to score her 1,000th career point. But what she did in this single game was just as impressive. She scored 36 points on 14-for-19 field-goal shooting, hit 8 of 11 free throws, grabbed 20 rebounds and had 5 steals, 3 assists and 3 blocked shots.

Elisabeth Gadient, Goodhue

It wasn't nearly her biggest scoring night of the season, point guard Gadient's 18 points in a 65-56 win over Kasson-Mantorville. But it was her combination of things that leaped out: 18 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks and 9 deflections.

Lily Morrisey, Schaeffer Academy

Schaeffer Academy was delivered a huge performance by Morrisey in a 50-33 win Saturday over Wabasha-Kellogg. The athletic sophomore scored 26 points and grabbed 19 rebounds.

Josie Foster, Caledonia

Foster, a 5-foot-10 junior forward, scored 31 points and hit five 3-pointers in a 61-35 rout of La Crescent-Hokah on Jan. 25. It was an incredible first half for Foster, getting 27 of her 31 points in those first 18 minutes.

Benita Nolt, LeRoy-Ostrander

It was a milestone night on Jan. 22 for LeRoy-Ostrander's Benita Nolt. The junior forward scored 28 points in a 60-55 win over Lanesboro, putting her over 1,000 for her career.

Ileana deAngel, Wabasha-Kellogg

DeAngel has been a semi regular in this "Performers" list. The senior guard had a huge night on Jan. 23 in a 61-50 win over Alden-Conger/Glenville-Emmons. She totaled 32 points, hitting seven 3-pointers along the way, and grabbed 13 rebounds. DeAngel was 7-for-10 on 3-pointers and 11-for-17 from the field overall. She also had three steals and three assists.

Aubrie Klug, Caledonia

A 5-foot-9 sophomore point guard, Klug drilled seven 3-pointers and finished with 27 points in the Warriors' 63-49 comeback win over Onalaska (Wis.) on Monday.

Lauren Queensland, Grand Meadow

The Superlarks' junior just missed on a triple-double on Jan. 22 in a 66-52 win over Southland. Queensland had 24 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. She hit 10 of 19 shots and was 2-of-3 on free throws. That all set her up for what she did in her next game, going over 1,000 career points.

Savannah Hedin, Stewartville

Hedin, a senior guard/forward, is one of the most versatile players in the area. She showed that again Tuesday, scoring 28 points, hitting three 3-pointers and collecting six rebounds in a 71-53 win over Zumbrota-Mazeppa.

Ciara Seifert, John Marshall

The 6-foot-1 Seifert has turned into a rebounding machine for JM. She's averaging 14 boards per game. In a 51-41 win over Winona on Tuesday, she outdid herself. She grabbed 25 rebounds and also chipped in 17 points.

(Editor's note: These rankings are considered "pound-for-pound" rankings, similar to many rankings systems in boxing and mixed martial arts. They represent the best teams in southeastern Minnesota, relative to the class they play in.

1. Goodhue (16-4)

The Wildcats have lost just once in their last 13 games, that one to surging Class 3A team Stewartville. Goodhue is ranked No. 1 in Class 1A and has a long list of impressive wins this season, including over No. 8 Class 3A-ranked Byron.

2. Winona Cotter (18-2)

There is no southeastern Minnesota team hotter than the Ramblers. Cotter hasn't dropped a game since Dec. 27. Junior forward Clarissa Sauer is one of the top five players in the area, imposing her will at both ends of the court and a prolific scorer. Cotter also has an excellent tandem in its backcourt, with Abby Williams and Katelyn Ubl.

3. Mayo (16-3)

That recent 63-35 blasting that Mayo took at the hands of Lakeville North causes some hesitation about the Spartans. Still, this is a heck of a Mayo team, with 12 wins in its past 13 games. And No. 8-ranked Lakeville North is a problem for just about everybody with its tremendous size and skill.

4. Rochester Lourdes (15-4)

Lourdes has made a steady charge up this Power Rankings. The Eagles have done it by winning 14 of their last 15 games. That includes beating No. 8-ranked Byron (Class 3A) 59-50 on Monday as it turned in a ferocious second half of defense. There isn't a lot of height here, but Lourdes has most everything else covered.

5. Stewartville (14-6)

Nobody has played a tougher schedule than Stewartville. That rugged competition seems to be paying off now. The Tigers have outscored their past five opponents by a combined 341-198. Among those five games was an impressive 60-47 Stewartville win against No. 1-ranked Goodhue (Class 1A).

6. Hayfield (18-2)

It used to be that the Vikings were considered a three-girl team (Kristen Watson, Natalie Beaver, Chelsea Christopherson), with an emphasis on the first two. That's no longer the case. The Vikings are more balanced this season with such players as Betsy Gillette, Lily Beyer and Jenna Christopherson all scoring between six and 10 points per game.

7. Byron (14-4)

There has been a little bit of slippage with Byron, which has lost to Goodhue and Lourdes in the last month. Still, this is a talented team that beats teams on both ends of the court. The Bears are second in Section 1, Class 3A in points scored per game (62.6) and first in points allowed (46.3). Also, sophomore Madison Ohm is emerging as one of the top players in southeastern Minnesota.

8. Caledonia (14-5)

Caledonia has had one rough game in its past eight, that one letting a halftime lead against Lourdes turn into a 57-41 loss. But this remains a dangerous team, with length and a variety of players who can go off on any given night. Josie Foster recently had a 31-point game and Aubrie Klug a 27-point game.

9. Spring Grove (17-2)

The Lions have a couple of tests in front of them, at Grand Meadow on Feb. 9 and the next day at Rushford-Peterson. Spring Grove has one of the better players in the area on its side, 5-foot-11 sophomore Kinley Soiney.

10. John Marshall (14-5)

After stumbling the first half of January, the Rockets seem to have regained their footing. JM has won its last five games, including 51-41 at solid Winona on Tuesday. On Friday comes a major test, JM hosting Mankato East.

Natalie Beaver is one of the top scorers in southeastern Minnesota, the sweet-shooting forward averaging 16.8 points per game. She's scored 1,856 points in her four-year career, second all-time at Hayfield behind teammate Kristen Watson (2,107). But Beaver has been even more prolific as a rebounder. She now holds Hayfield's career mark in rebounds with 835. She established the Hayfield record on Jan. 20 when she grabbed 10 more in a 79-27 rout of United South Central. Beaver broke a mark that had stood at Hayfield since 1991, Shanna Behrens ending with 812 rebounds.

There were four southeastern Minnesota players who entered the 1,000-point club in the last two weeks. Mayo's Ava Miller and Grand Meadow's Lexi Foster did it on Jan. 20, LeRoy-Ostrander's Benita Nolt got there on Jan. 22 and Grand Meadow's Lauren Queensland on Jan. 26. Miller and Foster are seniors, Nolt and Queensland juniors.