Prep girls basketball teams try to replicate last season's successes in 2022-23
It seemed like every prep girls basketball team in the Tri-County Area had their successes last season and replicating them for the 2022-23 will be their challenge.
Osseo-Fairchild won the Western Cloverbelt Conference title for the third season in a row and finished 23-3 despite losing several players top injury along the way. The Thunder are back healthy and return several letter winners from last season including Katie Skoug, Taylor Hammer, Trinity Knutson, Madisyn Loonstra, all-conference performer Eleice Dahl, Rhiannon Prudlick and Taylor Gunderson.
But the Thunder graduated several key players from those championship teams in WCC Co-Player of the Year Brooke McCune, Mariah Steinke, Lacey Frase and Dezeray Eisbrener. Returning players have to fill new roles and responsibilities and remake themselves into a new team. So far the results are just 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the always tough WCC despite four of their first six games at home.
"No doubt we're going to miss those who have graduated," O-F head coach Tera Simpson said. "It's going to take time to adjust without them but we have the talent to do so with our returning players and newcomers like (juniors) Halle Colby and Addi Koxlien. Our players ready to come together and move forward for another successful season."
The Thunder have notched some big wins in non-conference play so far against Ellsworth and La Crosse Central in overtime but have struggled in league play. They lost their WCC opener at home rival Fall Creek last week Friday, Dec. 2 losing by a 55-46 score. They downed Eau Claire Regis 60-48 at home on Tuesday, Dec. 6 of this week as they pulled away in the second half from a 22-22 halftime time thanks to Loonstra scoring 12 of her 17 points in the half but they took a hard loss to Cadott 60-54 Friday, Dec. 9, also at home as they could not control the Hornets' Lauren Goettl as she led all scorers with 29 points. O-F also lost 62-50 to Durand-Arkansaw in a match-up played in Colfax back on Dec. 3 as part of the prep girls' Northwest Classic. Their next contest is a non-conference game at Cochrane-Fountain City on Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 7:15 p.m.
Both Cadott and Chippewa Falls McDonell are 3-0 in the WCC so far with Fall Creek a game back at 2-1. The Crickets fell short against the Macks on Friday, dec. 9 losing 51-32 after a close first half. The defending regional tournament champions at 19-9 overall last season are off to a 4-2 start thanks largely to strong play on defense despite graduating all-conference players like Katie Kent and Gianna Vollrath along with Annika Steinke. FC returns senior letter winners such as Tori Marten, whose scoring and heady play helped FC down Durand-Arkansaw in the regional championship game, Jenna Anders, McKenna Klawitter, Megan Johnston, Marissa Dunham, JaneyAnne Grossinger and Riley Nicks along with sophomore Kennedy Tumm and incorporate newcomers like freshman Jasmin Heuer and sophomore Anna Dougherty into a varsity line-up committed to strong defensive effort. This has shown itself in wins over O-F, Mondovi 61-42 in Colfax on Dec. 3 in the Northwest Classic; over Bloomer 68-49 back on Dec. 3 - where the Crickets showed some prowess on offense as well with four players scoring in double figures led by Marten with 14 points, Heuer and Dougherty 13 points each and Tumm 12 points - before their loss at McDonell.
"Our players are excited to play defense. That's the key," head coach Jason Martzke said. "We have good athletes and experienced players and some good young talent but their attitude towards playing defense and being the best at is really what makes it work. And what's nice is that builds our team aspect because it's not something just one or two players can do such as scoring and rebounding. It takes a whole team and that's what builds us up."
Augusta is off to a 4-2 (2-2 in the Dairyland Large) start under new head coach Ashlyn Korger, replacing Michael Vesperman. But she's not quite "new" having been an assistant for the past few seasons. Also not new for the Beavers is playing with a small roster. AHS only dressed 10 varsity players last season but still managed to win 11 games (11-14 overall, 5-10 in the Dairyland Large). Augusta has a few more players this season, enough to have a JV squad, and only graduated one letter winner in Kirsten Willms but they will still relay heavily on all-conference senior Kennedy Korger along with returning letter winners like seniors Brittany Bergman, Sam Winsce, Kalli Smith, junior Olivia Meyer and sophomore Aubrey Korger.
The Beavers are currently on a two-game winning streak having dispatched Whitehall on Friday, Dec. 9 on the road 57-38 and winning on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at home 47-28 over Melrose-Mindoro. They had dropped games at Eleva-Strum and at home vs. Cochrane-Fountain City a week ago. Kennedy Korger scored 18 points vs. the Mustangs and AHS got solid contributions from Aurbey Korger with nine points, Winsce with eight points and Bergman with eight points. Korger made 10-out-11 free throws and the team was 20-for-23 against the Mustangs. Free-throws are just many of the "little things" Coach Korger said she puts strong emphasis on that she hopes will add up to make for a winning season in 22-23.
"You saw us step up tonight at the free-throw line," Korger said. "That's an area right there where we need to get better and more consistent at. Rebounding, defense, game situations, all these things will add up to our success along with our scorers. We know we have players who can put the ball in the basket and we have the work ethic and attitude to improve at the little things which that will help us this season."
Blair-Taylor's 64-62 win over C-FC Friday, Dec. 9 has put them well in front in the Dairyland Large standings. Eleva-Strum got a taste of the Wildcats last week Friday, Dec. 2 losing 66-22. The Cards have also dropped contests to the DC Large's second best team Cochrane-Fountain City 68-51 on Tuesday, Dec. 6 and Melrose-Mindoro on Friday, Dec. 9 by a 52-31 score. So far the very young Cardinal squad has a 2-5 overall record, 1-3 in the league. But E-S has a 47-35 win over Augusta back on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at home as their defense held everyone but Kenndy Korger from scoring more than three points. And a win over a solid Elmwood/PC squad in non-conference play to show their potential in spite of their inexperience (E-S lost all-conference player Grace Clark along with Madison Schultz and Paige Hanner from last season's regional finalist with an 11-13 overall record after an 0-5 start to the season). The Cardinals hope to build around returning all-league player senior Jaden Bautch and returning letter winners such as juniors Annika Skoug, Kassidy Koxlien, seniors Maddy Bertrang and Olivia Becker and freshman newcomer Aliza Kulig.
"You know, even if Jaden didn't score in double figures all season she would still be all-conference just because of what she does for us in so many areas in the game and her leadership as well," head coach J.B. Grangaard said. "And her leadership will help what's an inexperience but good group of young players with good potential that in time can come together hopefully match or exceed what we did last season with a more veteran team.