Lion ladies restock, open Thursday


Coach Kody Moore observes while Jacine Johanningmeier prepares to pass while guarded by Erika Donlan. Photo by S. Lee Epps
By: 
S. Lee Epps

With only one returning starter, the 2020 Spring Grove girls basketball team is the program's most inexperienced in recent memory. Yet there is optimism for the Lions this season, which begins this week at Caledonia on Thursday, Nov. 21.

The girls are in pursuit of their first winning season in three years. Last year was close to .500 at 10-12. The Lions received the No. 11 seed in the 19-team section tournament. 

Five seniors graduated with two-thirds of the points and three-fourths of the rebounds and steals. The B-team went 5-13 and both junior high teams had more losses than wins. In summer league play at La Crosse, the varsity ladies went 3-5.

But the cupboard is far from bare; the Lions return three of the primary eight-player rotation and four of nine letter winners. Success on the scoreboard depends on how well they all adjust to new roles and increased responsibility.

Spring Grove will rebuild around an accomplished leader - senior Amelia Solum- who was the leading scorer at 14.5 points per game with the Lions' best 3-point percentage (36%) and most 3-point field goals (38) in her All-Conferencejunior campaign. She had received Honorable Mention All-SECas a sophomore.

The 5-foot-6 point guard has been voted Spring Grove's Most Valuable Player as both a junior and a sophomore. 

Already a three-year letter winner, she has all the tools - second last year in both steals (2.5 spg) and assists (2.6) as well as free throw accuracy (65%). 

Solum, too, will be adjusting to a new role - not only as the most acclaimed of three seniors - being looked to for leadership and who will undoubtedly draw the opponent's best perimeter defender almost every night. 

With no one else returning with more than a 2-point scoring average, the major question concerns who will step up to be scoring threats.

 With some promising taller younger players on the roster, 5-3 senior guard Marie Petersenwill likely see more action on the perimeter this season. She played in 21 of last year's 22 games.

The other two returning letter winners are also guards. Voted Most Improved Playerlast winter, 5-5 sophomore guard Jordian Leahyalso saw action in 21 games as a freshman.

Maggie Lile, a 5-5 athletic freshman guard, played in 10 games as an eighth grade letter winner and displayed scoring potential while hitting 5 of 10 three pointers.

While most experience is on the perimeter, there is much anticipation of the production from some promising inside performers, including 5-11 senior forward Jacine Johanningmeier. She was a B-team player last winter and was a major factor during the varsity's summer league play.

Athletic 5-10 freshman Addyson McHughplayed in two varsity games as an eighth grader. She and 5-9 eighth grader Katelyn Krausboth exhibit the versatility to contribute not only inside but also on the perimeter. Another option near the basket is 5-8 junior forward Erika Donlan. Also displaying potential is 5-11 freshman forward Ellyce Walsh.

First off the bench in Saturday's scrimmages were two guards - 5-6 junior Piper Thompsonand 5-8 freshman Lydia Solum.

In addition to Walsh and Kraus, other candidates at guard moving up from junior high are freshmen Madilyn Osternand Ella Wennesalong with eighth grader Hailie Kittlesonand promising seventh grader Emerson Ingvalson.

Returning to basketball after a freshman hiatus are sophomore guards Ava Olerudand McKenzie Fisch. First-year basketball players are sophomore Ashlyn Hammeland freshman Kylie Reynolds.

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Saturday scrimmages

Spring Grove competed in both varsity and B-team scrimmages at Caledonia on Nov. 16. The two most experienced players were unavailable with injuries - Amelia Solum and Petersen.

The varsity got valuable experience while facing three different teams that played three different defenses.  Grand Meadow employed an aggressive, very physical man-to man defense, whereas Mabel-Canton used a sagging, helping man defense. In between, there was Houston's 1-3-1 zone. In the full court session, Houston also pressured all over the floor. There was some on-the-job learning for the young Lions.

Head coach Kody Moore was pleased with the Lion defense, but noted defenses prevailed for all three opponents as well.

He praised the ball handling of Leahy, the perimeter shooting of Lile and the rebounding of McHugh and Johanningmeier.

Lydia Solum, who played some with the B-team, "held her own," said Moore when on the court with the varsity. Moore also noted some promising play from Ingvalson and Kraus. Thompson missed some action after being shaken up during the second scrimmage.

Goals, coaches

Besides the search for scorers, Moore says the focus will be on the defense not giving up layups and easy baskets. He said that entails doing a better job this year rebounding on the defensive backboards. More height inside this year can only help.

Moore is back for his second season at the helm after three years as assistant. He is assisted for the second season by Blaine Storlie, 2013 Spring Grove Male Athlete of the Year, who played college basketball at Hamline University.

Taking the reins of the junior high girls will be Teala Heddleston and Addison Cross (SG Class of 2013).

The SEC, the schedule

The Lion ladies finished third in the five-team SEC East Division last year behind co-champions Kingsland and Houston. The Knights move to the East Division this winter while Schaeffer Academy moves over the East.

The 13-game conference slate consists of two games each against the other four East Division rivals plus one league matchup with each of the five West squads.

A new feature this year is the SEC Showcase on Saturday, Dec. 21 on both courts at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester. Every boys and girls team in the SEC will play a conference game there on that date (except a non-SEC game for the Glenville-Emmons boys). The Lion girls (2 p.m.) and the Lion boys (4 p.m.) will both face Randolph that day.

A second non-SEC game for the girls versus Grand Meadow will one of the 13-game non-conference schedule. 

Spring Grove will again play in the Iowa/Minnesota Border Battle at Decorah. The Saturday, Dec. 14 opponent will be the Crestwood (Cresco) girls at 9:30 a.m.

The ambitious schedule includes larger schools Caledonia, Waukon, Decorah, La Crescent-Hokah, Cannon Falls and Lewiston-Altura.

There will be smaller-school contests versus Southland, Rushford-Peterson, Lansing Kee Fillmore Central and a holiday hosting of Klawok (Alaska).

The start

The toughest task could be the first with this Thursday's trip to Caledonia, the defending state runner-up in Class AA. The Warriors went 25-5 last year, including a win at Spring Grove during a 21-game winning streak that ended in the state championship game.

The Spring Grove home opener follows on Tuesday, Nov. 26 against Waukon. 

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Lions the Last 6 Seasons - SG girls Basketball

2019 10-12 (6-7 SEC, 3rd East)

2018 10-14 (6-7 SEC, tie 2nd)

2017 15-11 (11-3 SEC, 2nd East)

2016 16-10 (14-4 SEC, 1st East)

2015 17-10 (16-4 SEC, 1st East)

2014 19-8 (16-2 SEC, 1st East)

total 87-65 (69-27 SEC)

conference championships – 11: (2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2005, 2003, 1996, 1980)

sub-sect./dist. championships – 6: (2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 1997, 1995)

section championships – 1: (2012)