Young girls basketball leaders project bright Tiger future
BY DAVID PEDERSEN
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
The way the young Delano girls basketball team challenged in the section tournament, it is hard not to look ahead.
The Tigers finished 16-9 after the 63-62 double overtime defeat to No. 2 section seed Dassel-Cokato Saturday in Buffalo. Delano opened the playoffs with a 71-60 triumph over St. Cloud Apollo.
Delano’s top scorers are sophomores, while the section roster had seven sophomores and two juniors. Add to the mix next season a talented transfer and two promising eighth-graders and the future looks bright.
Coach Amy Gould said a big factor in the DC game was the loss of 6-foot senior Darian Sowers to a knee injury in the first half. Her height and senior leadership were tapped as part of the game plan. Since senior Katie Emmer was out with a broken hand, it left the Tigers with on senior in guard Savanah Bettin.
“In these playoff games we need seniors with their do or die mentality,” said Gould, adding how she planned to defend with all three 6-foot players.
Against St. Cloud Apollo, sophomores Alex Wittinger, Bria Barfnecht and Brooke Lemke did most of the scoring. Wittinger had 24 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and four steals. She was 8 of 11 from the free throw line.
Barfnecht also had 24 points to go with six rebounds, four steals and three assists. Lemke added a season-high 17 points and four assists. Delano took four free throws in the first half and 28 in the second.
“It was a good playoff opener for us being a young team needing to realize the stakes are higher and we need to raise our level of intensity as well,” adds Gould.
The Tigers moved on to face Dassel-Cokato, a team they lost to by 18 points early in the season. Gould said her staff spent a lot of time scouting DC and was calm and confident about the game plan. However, the plan did not include losing a tall defender to injury.
Delano missed its first three shots in the second half when it trailed 30-25. Trailing 53-46 with just over three minutes to play, Gould switched to a half court press, forcing some turnovers, leading to layup baskets and a comeback.
The game was tied with 13 second left when a Delano tip in basket was ruled too late and teams went to overtime. Delano built a 4-point lead in the first overtime, but missed a couple free throws that could have clinched the win. DC hit a 3-point basket to tie at the buzzer in the first overtime. The battle continued in the second overtime before Delano’s last shot would not fall.
Wittinger had a monster game, scoring 19 points to go with 20 rebounds and six blocked shots. Barfnecht scored 15 points with six rebounds and four steals. Sophomore Kalley Koch scored 13 points, Bettin had eight and Lemke had three steals.
Gould said the team’s downfall was having 22 turnovers and making 10 of 20 free throw attempts. Otherwise, the coach had high praise for her team in this game and on the season.
“I am extremely proud of this team,” adds Gould. “Our goal was to peak against Dassel-Cokato and that is exactly what we did. We can’t hang our head for losing, we were exactly where we wanted to be, having a chance to get to the section title game.”
Gould said the setback will be a huge motivator for this group in future years. Both top section seed Monticello and No. 2 Dassel-Cokato will return the bulk of their leaders, which does not bother the Tiger coach who has her own stable of talented players.
“Alex had an amazing year and is playing years beyond her age,” said Gould about Wittinger, a 6-1 sophomore who averaged 16 points and 12.9 rebounds overall. “Her aggressiveness to the rim and timing on rebounds is such a nightmare for other teams.”
Barfnecht had a slow start but came on strong when Emmer went out. The sophomore averaged close to 10 points and six rebounds per game. She had several games scoring in double figures down the stretch.
Koch is another sophomore who made a difference, joining the starting lineup in place of Emmer, who averaged 10 points per game.
“We didn’t know what Kalley would bring, but she came into the playoffs with courage,” said Gould about Koch. “She knocked down 3-point shots under pressure, drove to the basket and took the opportunity to lead by example. She was exactly what the team needed when replacing a valuable senior.”
Tayler Hedtke is another sophomore who played a major role as a 6-2 forward. Gould said as the season went on, Hedtke played with so much strength, both mentally and physically.
Sophomore guard Michelle Endersbe was a backup guard to Lemke, who averaged eight points per game. Juniors Coco Arens and Gabrielle Mielke, along with sophomore Makenna Giese, are expected to contribute next year. So will Brooke Dormannan, a talented junior transfer from Rockford who had to sit out the season in order to play next year.
Gould has high hopes for two eighth-graders who dressed for varsity in the playoffs. Erin Norling is a guard “with amazing ball handling skills and is one of the top three shooters in our program,” adds Gould.
Norling was picked to play on a high level AAU summer team, as was Wittinger. Tori Hanson is another “great athlete” as an eighth-grader who could be a big factor in years to come.
“We overachieved on our primary goal of being .500 for the first time since 2007-2008 by finishing at 16-12,” said Gould. “We fell two points short in a double overtime thriller of achieving that second goal of making it to the section finals.”
Contact Dave Pedersen at [email protected]