Coming off a narrow 39-36 defeat by Howards Grove in the sectional semifinals last season, the Manitowoc Lutheran girls basketball team knows what it takes to play deep into the season.
One key question this season is who will lead the Lancers’ charge.
Gone from a season ago are seniors Brianna Neumeyer and Leah Nass, Lutherans top two scores last year, after averaging nearly 30 points per game.
“Last year’s team is last year’s team,” said Lutheran coach Dave Jirikowic. “Both Brianna and Leah were excellent leaders for us, but the girls on this team have been doing a great job of playing together. Every player is going to have added responsibility but so far they haven’t even blinked about it.”
Lutheran will have a pair of seniors in Julia Barthels and Jordan Menges to give the younger Lancers someone to look up to and show them the ropes.
Barthels, a 5-foot-8-inch forward, and Menges, a 5-foot-7-inch guard-forward, both averaged roughly five points a game last season but now will be looked upon to provide more of a scoring punch.
For this year’s squad Jirikowic is emphasizing a true team-first attitude when it comes to both ends of the floor and is confident that if the team follows suit the wins will come eventually.
“Every practice I see noticeable improvement,” Jirikowic added. “This team really practices with a game-like intensity. The only thing lacking is experience and the trust in their abilities. They have to believe that no matter the situation whether it’s a key defensive stop or a last second shot the ability is there it only has to be accessed.”
It’s with this in mind that Jirikowic is stressing a ball-hawking style on defense, hoping to force the opposition into committing unforced errors.
“The girls have a great passion and heart for the game,” Jirikowic said. “They’re willing to put in the time and effort to become successful, it just takes time to come together as a unit.”
Jirikowic is hoping to work his offense through the post with a strong inside scoring game which will lead to multiple trips to the free-throw line. By being aggressive in the paint, it will force opposing defenses to decide if they’d rather be beaten at the line or around the rim.
This inside game will feature junior Monique Machut and sophomore Brooke Roberts, with each standing 5-feet-10-inches and 5-feet-11inches, respectively, to give the Lancers a physical presence inside the lane.
Lutheran will get its first test of Olympian Conference action on Friday when it hosts Mishicot.
No matter what happens, Jirikowic is hoping his new squad will find it’s identity and leave last year’s team in the past.