By Rob LaPlante
St. Michael-Albertville is looking for a fast and running start to the 2012-13 girls’ basketball season – literally.
With a new look lineup that’s returning only two starters, the Knights are hoping their strength will be a faster and deeper squad.
“We should be a fast-paced team,” said senior guard Jordan Hansen, who teams with fellow senior guard Natalie Van Wyhe as this year’s lone returning starters. “Our strength will be moving the ball up and down the floor.”
Hansen and Van Wyhe solidify the guard position. But the Knights will look to a new cast of characters filling the void of Christine Thorn, Courtney Rotenberger and Rachel Valley.
Van Wyhe is an MSU-Moorhead recruit and she returns as the leading threat on both sides of the ball. Her 10.1 points per game leads all returning scorers. She also led the team a year ago in rebounds (3.2), assists (3.1) and steals (68).
“We had more post players last year,” Van Wyhe said. “The effort and hustle has to be there every night if we’re going to win the conference. That is our goal as well as getting back to state.”
STMA made it to the state tournament for the third time in four seasons under head coach Kent Hamre. A 55-41 defeat to Eastview at Target Center ended the Knights state title hopes.
“Last year we were a game short of the conference title,” said Hamre, who twice lost to conference champion Buffalo during the regular season. “We feel pretty fortunate with what we have. We’re going to be a deep team and our goal is to play 94-feet of basketball and see if teams can keep up with us.”
Besides Van Wyhe and Hansen, Hamre expects a number of different girls to step up on any given night.
Six-foot-two senior center Breanna Grube led the team in rebounds (2.6) and had 24 blocked shots. Van Wyhe and senior guard Makenzie Bebo and senior forward Nicole Westrum not only look to lead by example as this year’s captains, but look to increase their roles with more minutes.
“For any team to be successful, you need to not have the jealousy and everyone to get along,” said Hamre, who is entering his 8th season as head coach. “With this many kids buying for positions, it’s going to be tough getting enough minutes to go around. Some night they may get two minutes, the next night they might get 26 minutes. We have a lot of balanced talent.”
While the Knights failed to win the M-8 conference title, Westrum said the highlight of last season was getting revenge on their arch-rival Buffalo, after defeating the Bison 58-55 in overtime of the Section 8AAAA championship game at St. John’s University.
“It felt great to finally beat them after losing to them two times in the conference,” Westrum said.
Both the Knights and Bison should contend once again for the conference title. Buffalo is coming off an 11-1 conference record, while the Knights finished second at 10-2. Buffalo’s only loss in the M-8 came to Cambridge-Isanti.
STMA finished last season 22-8 overall and looking to get to the 20-win plateau for a fifth consecutive year.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication,” Westrum said. “I’m excited. We have a lot of good underclassmen and it should be a fun season.”