Experience, balance may keep Lions on top
Tuesday, November 20, 2012 6:22 AM
Nine returning letter winners will lead the Spring Grove Lions girls basketball team out onto the hardwood floor this season. For fans, that could be a good omen. In 2011, the same number of letter winners took the team to their first-ever state tournament, finishing No. 4 with a record of 28-5 overall, 18-0 in section play.
The Lions pose with the Class A fourth place trophy at Concordia College in
St. Paul after a thrilling three games in less than three days in last March’s Minnesota State Basketball Tournament.
The Lions have won 54 straight conference Southeast Conference (SEC) games while winning the last three SEC titles.
This year, Spring Grove faces the challenge of replacing four graduates, two of whom were among the most honored basketball competitors in program history.
Richell Mehus and Taylor Elton rewrote the record book, earning such credentials as All-State, the All-State-Tournament Team and Conference Player of the Year.
Three starters and an All-SEC player will return from last year's record-setting team.
Addison Cross made the all-conference team without being listed as a starter last year, a rare circumstance. The five-foot seven-inch senior guard will certainly start for the Lions this season. Cross averaged 7.0 points per game last year, with 3.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.8 steals per outing.
Junior 5-9 forward Nicki Ellingson received honorable mention on the All-SEC team. She started last year, averaging 5.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
Senior guard Nikki Hansen also started last year, averaging 5.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game.
The team's other returning starter is Randi Mehus. A senior guard this season, 5-6 Mehus averaged 4.7 points per game, 5.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.8 steals last year.
Other returning letter winners who are sure to see plenty of action this season include 5-7 junior forward Aly Folz, 5-4 junior guard Heidi Buxengard, 5-10 sophomore center Samantha Bratland, 5-5 junior guard Julianna Sand, and 5-4 sophomore guard Lauren Arneson.
Three additional candidates for varsity action include 5-4 sophomore guard Liz Johnson, 6-0 sophomore forward Kailee Bjerke, and 5-9 junior forward Amanda Hahn, head coach Russell Larson said last week.
Adding depth to the roster is senior exchange student Johanna Koch, sophomore forward Shayna Cody, freshman guard Jordan Anderson, freshman guard Jena Benson, and eighth-grade guard Kelsey Hermanson.
Larson returns to the helm for an eighth season, assisted by Heath Olson (who also coaches the B-team). Olson has been Larson's assistant for all eight years. Erin Konkel and Danielle Dehning will coach Spring Grove Junior High basketball.
Larson said that experience and balance are the hallmarks of this squad. With Ellingson at 5-9 backed by Bratland at 5-10 and Bjerke at 6-0, the Lions will have good height inside. The team should also have good quickness and speed on the perimeter. Unproven depth and unproven leadership are potential challenges.
In the conference, Lyle/Pacelli and Grand Meadow both return a good core of players, Larson noted.
In the section, teams to watch include Faribault Bethlehem Academy, Goodhue and Rushford-Peterson. The Lions hope to be in contention for both the conference and section crowns this season.
"We are returning four of our top eight players from a team that reached the state tournament and also have a nice mix from a very successful JV team, so our expectations are high, but we also realized that we lost some key contributors so many roles will be quite different this year," Larson stated.
Spring Grove has scheduled a tough non-conference lineup, including Iowa Class AAA Waukon, plus Minnesota AA Caledonia, La Crescent and Rochester Lourdes, plus Class A Fillmore Central, Rushford-Peterson and Goodhue.
The season begins on Tuesday, Nov. 27 at Glenville-Emmons. An away game at Mabel-Canton follows on the 30th while Rochester Lourdes (also away) is the opponent on Dec. 4.
Look elsewhere in this week's Herald for a full season schedule or pick up a pocket schedule or sports calendar at Merchants Bank or the Herald office.
The boys basketball preview and Caledonia/Spring Grove/Houston gymnastic team previews are slated for next week's edition.