Northwood girls eye a return trip to state
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
After finishing the regular season undefeated last year and advancing to the girls basketball state tournament for the first time in school history, the Northwood Evergreens open the 2010-11 season with one objective.
They want to prove their success was no accident.
“I think they expect to do what we did last year,” said Jason Schultz, Evergreens head coach. “You don’t want to put a lot of pressure on them, but I think our girls want to win every game. They believe they can play with anybody, and that’s a good thing.”
Northwood claimed its second straight Central Lakeland Conference title last year and finished the season with a 25-1 record. In its trek through the playoffs, Northwood benefited from a level of obscurity — many opponents hadn’t even heard of the small Minong team until squaring off with the Evergreens on the court.
But this year, Northwood won’t sneak up on anyone. If the Evergreens want to repeat their achievement, they’ll have to do it under the glare of the spotlight.
“We went from the hunter to the hunted now,” Schultz said. “Hopefully our girls can adjust to that, because we’re going to get everybody’s best effort.”
Northwood returns three of its five starters from last season, two of whom have seen varsity action since they were freshmen. Those three — Deanna Scheller, Ashley Block and Annie Block — are all playing in their final season with the Evergreens, and Schultz expects them to be his “coaches on the floor.”
“We’re bringing back seven seniors, and we’ve got a couple juniors and sophomores that are going to help us,” Schultz said. “We’ve got a lot of talent.”
Scheller and Annie Block reprise their roles as Northwood’s two primary post players, with Ashley Block helping in the paint or stepping out for a mid-range shot.
“Most of the girls, we’ve been playing together for a long time, and we know what we’re doing,” Scheller said.
The Evergreens do, however, need to replace last year’s starting guards, Rachel Hanley and Katie Sohn.
Sophomore Sarah Benson is slated to take over as the Evergreens’ lead ball handler. She came off the bench last season and was a major asset in Northwood’s playoff run.
Benson showed herself to be more than capable of handling the point guard position, but the Evergreens will still need to tweak their style with the loss of Hanley, now playing at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
“I think it will be a little slower than last year, but I think we’re still going to push it,” Ashley Block said.
Scheller said the Evergreens would look for fast-break opportunities — a mainstay of the team’s offense last year — if teams didn’t pay attention, but she also had confidence in Northwood’s half-court game.
“We have strong posts this year,” Scheller said. “We have a lot of girls who can play inside and are doing well. We improved a lot over the summer.”
Scheller, Ashley Block, Annie Block and Benson are among the probable starting five, but the remainder of the players will shift in and out of the starting lineup.
“The four top girls are going to be as good as anybody’s top four in our division in the state,” Schultz said. “What’s going to really set us apart is if we can get those fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth girls to really step up. I’ve already seen it in practice. They’re going to bring a lot to the table.”
At this point, Schultz said he expects junior Teagen Harings and seniors Erica Goettl and Sara Radzak to rotate into the fifth starting position. Seniors Bailey Burns and Jenna Melby, along with junior Rachel Pollock, are also expected to contribute significant minutes.
The Evergreens don’t hide their hopes for a return trip to state, yet the girls doubt they’ll get much more respect from opponents than they received last season.
“I think we still have the underdog feeling,” Scheller said. “A lot of people are saying we aren’t going to be that good because we lost too many players or we lost Rachel Hanley.”
“Or they say it was just a fluke last year,” Annie Block added. “I want to prove to everybody that we can do it again.”
The Evergreens will have their first chance to prove themselves Thursday, as they open the season with a game at Ashland.
“That’s going to be a tough game. They have a good program, a very good team,” Schultz said.
Ashland High School also has an enrollment of more than 700 students. Northwood tops out at less than 200.
“It’s definitely going to show us what we need to work on,” said Annie Block.
Schultz was grateful for the opportunity to play a bigger school like Ashland and said win or lose, the Evergreens can only benefit from the experience.
“We wanted to try to improve the level of competition on our schedule,” Schultz said. “When you have a special group of kids, you need to try to challenge them as much as you can.
“They are a talented group of kids,” Schultz continued. “In three years, I think they’ve lost nine games. A lot of people lose that in one season.
“This is a once in a lifetime group.”
Games to watch
The Evergreens kick off the season Thursday with what should be an exciting game at Ashland, but Northwood has a few more match-ups fans won’t want to miss.
Near the top of the list are Northwood’s two regular season meetings with Clayton, always a contender in the Central Lakeland Conference. The Evergreens host the Bears Jan. 25 and then travel to Clayton March 3 for the rematch in Northwood’s final game of the regular season.
The Siren Dragons play Northwood in a nonconference game Jan. 11 at Siren. The two teams have faced each other in the regional finals for the past four seasons. Northwood won the last meeting 53-50.
2010 Northwood Evergreens Schedule
Thursday, Dec. 2 at Ashland, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 9 vs. Clear Lake, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 14 vs. Turtle Lake, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 17 vs. South Shore, 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 4 at Frederic, 6 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 7 at Prairie Farm, 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 11 at Siren, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 14 vs. Shell Lake, 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 18 at Cameron, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 20 at Bruce, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 25 vs. Clayton, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 27 vs. Drummond, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 28 at Clear Lake, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 1 at Luck, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 3 at Turtle lake, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 8 vs. Webster, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 17 vs. Prairie Farm, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 22 at Shell Lake, 6 p.m.
Monday, Feb. 28 vs. Cameron, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 3 at Clayton, 7:30 p.m.