APPLETON – Being a successful girls’ basketball coach at any level is more than just running smooth practices and making necessary in-game adjustments.
It’s also about managing a roster full of talented players and weaving each student-athlete’s own personality and quirks into a cohesive unit.
Appleton North girls’ basketball coach Joe Russom knows that challenge, and of also trying to find playing time for a talented and undefeated Lightning roster that was voted the top team in Division 1 in the first Associated Press poll released Tuesday night.
The Lightning, which reached the WIAA state tournament last season, faces Appleton West today at 5:45 p.m. and is coming off a 72-55 victory over two-time defending Fox Valley Association champion Hortonville on Saturday.
“This has been the most difficult year to coach and the reason is because of that,” Russom said of his team’s deep and talented roster. “We have so many kids that could start on multiple FVA teams right now and play significant minutes. Trying to keep everybody happy, that’s difficult. But they really buy into the team concept and they have to do the work to get to play.”
North’s starting five of Kari Brekke, Callie Pohlman, Kylee Beecher, Sydney Levy and Paige Schabo has the speed to keep up with transition teams and the patience and experience to slow things down if necessary.
Then there’s the reserve unit led by Taylor Sieg, Sydney Squier, Anna Laux, Kalen Klitzke and freshman Emma Erickson that helps prevent any dropoff in play when the starters need a breather.
All 10 of those players saw minutes against Hortonville.
“We went 10 deep in this game and we just rotated kids, that’s our philosophy,” Russom said. “Somebody gets hurt, next kid’s up. Somebody gets in foul trouble, next kid’s up. We just don’t have any excuses. We don’t allow it.”
Levy, a 5-foot-8 junior playmaking guard, leads North in scoring at 16.4 points per game. A UW-Milwaukee recruit, she presents matchup problems because of her height and shooting prowess along the wing.
Brekke and Pohlman help run the North offense at guard.
Brekke, a 5-6 junior, is averaging 11.4 points and has impressive court awareness. Time and time again, Brekke found her teammates during the Hortonville game with assists in transition.
Pohlman (10.0 ppg) provides a level of intensity on defense that teammates feed off. The 5-7 senior is also a superb athlete and was a key contributor on the Lightning’s state-bound volleyball team this past fall.
Another player quickly ascending is Schabo, a 5-10 sophomore who is averaging 11.1 points. She scored 23 points against Hortonville and provides yet another offensive dimension for Lightning.
“For the style we play, we want to turn this game into a track meet and run teams into the ground. And I think it really showed (against Hortonville),” Brekke said. “We would sub in (Squier) and (Klitzke) and against teams like Hortonville, where they are trying to keep their two best players in the game, it really drags them down and takes them out of their game. For us, we’re able to keep up the tempo when we put in our reserves and I think that really fits our style.”
North’s undefeated start has included a trip to Ohio, where the Lightning won the Tippecanoe Valley Thanksgiving Classic, including a win against highly-regarded Tippecanoe Valley 50-39.
While being 10-0 gives the players a nice bump in confidence, Brekke knows the task ahead of them this week is to be prepared to face Appleton West.
“Obviously our goal is to get better every practice and every game and right now our focus is Appleton West,” she said. “We take it one game at a time and when the end of the season comes, we’ll be where we need to be.”
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-7191 or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @PCRicardo