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Cardinals star thrives at UMD

Just two years ago Taya Hakamaki was at the Minnesota state high school basketball tournament and getting ready to leave the hotel, and then take the floor in the state semifinals, when her Cromwell-Wright Cardinals were told their season was over due to Covid-19.

Today, Hakamaki is a junior guard on the University of Minnesota Duluth women's basketball team that is 10-2 overall and 7-0 in the conference.

"My first reaction back in high school when we were told the state tournament was being canceled was to cry," said Hakamaki. "We knew we were a good team and could compete with any team in the state that season and potentially win a state title. It was just tough."

Following her graduation in 2020 from Cromwell, Hakamaki made her way to UMD, where she played in seven games as a freshman and 17 games last season. This season, Hakamaki has played in all 12 games and is averaging 9.3 points per game for the Bulldogs.

"The transition to play in college was definitely very tough because it is so competitive and the players are so physical and strong," said Hakamaki. "The other thing you notice about college ball is that the players all have such a high basketball IQ. All of them are smart and know their roles and what to do and when to do it."

With increased playing time for Hakamaki has come improving offensive and defensive statistics.

Besides her 9.3 scoring average, which is third on the team, she also has gone 13-for-15 from the free throw line. The 5-foot-9 junior guard also has the highest 3-point shooting percentage of the team, and leads the team in steals with 24.

"I really feel that this year I am finding my role on the team," Hakamaki said. "I feel my role is to attack the basket on offense, get players open and find the open player and kick the ball out.

"On defense I work hard on locking my player down and getting turnovers."

While Hakamaki loves the college atmosphere, she also has fantastic memories of her high school days.

"In high school, it was so much fun playing with your friends and we created so many memories together," Hakamaki said. "I also feel like I am creating new and exciting memories in college. There is just a different feel to it."

One only hopes that Hakamaki and her UMD teammates continue the success they have had this season, that they are allowed to see the season through to the end.

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