The Superior girls basketball team had meetings over the internet this fall, and it was hard for head coach Dave Kontny to see the same sad faces every week.
“It was so disheartening,” he said.
Well, times they are a-changin.’
The Spartans not only returned to practice Dec. 21, as a matter of fact, they’ve already played a game.
Superior only returns three players who got significant minutes on a team that went 14-10 last season. Yes, they’re young, but they're excited to play during a COVID-19 era that has been filled with so much uncertainty.
Some players opted not to come out this season, giving Superior an unusual roster for a school its size. Molly Lenmark is the lone senior, and she’ll play mostly junior varsity.
“It was an odd year,” Kontny said of 2020.
In Superior’s season-opening 60-59 win over South Shore Tuesday, Jan. 5, the Spartans started junior Natalee Sigfrids, sophomores Savannah Leopold and Emma Raye and freshmen Eva Peterson and Kloe Zentkowski, an up-and-coming 6-foot point guard.
Leopold and Raye are the team’s lone returning starters, while Sigfrids came off the bench last season.
Roles will change this year.
Against South Shore, Leopold led Superior with 22 points, including five 3-pointers; Raye had 16, including two 3s; Zentkowski had nine while running the offense; and Raye scored six while playing inside.
“They’re young, but at the same time, I go to practice and I see the potential,” Kontny said. “I’m just hungry for practice every day, because I know that’s where you get better. It’s just a matter of us realizing it’s not traveling basketball anymore. It’s the varsity level. They’re extremely excited.”
Kontny said this year will be a learning experience, but he won’t settle for “waiting till next year.” The Spartans could be “dangerous,” he said, especially later in the season after getting used to playing with each other and, presumably, developing some court chemistry.
“We have some talented kids,” Kontny said. “It’s just a matter of getting some games in. We’re going to get better and better, no doubt about it.
“We’re getting a four- or five-week late start. I look at the state rankings and the teams that are in the top, they’ve already played nine, 10 games. It’s definitely going to be a catch-up, but we’re going to just keep plugging away, one team at a time.”
Superior looks to play as many games as they can in the shortened schedule, and state rules are favorable to it.
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association is planning a postseason starting the second week of February. Teams will be allowed to keep playing even if they get knocked out of the postseason. They can schedule an opponent all the way up through the state tournament, if they'd like, but if they're still alive in the playoffs, they can cancel the previously scheduled “regular season” game.
It’s all about getting these high school athletes as much of an experience as possible, as many games in as possible, even in the craziest of years. Kontny, who said he is well aware of the precautions in dealing with COVID-19, added that these games have added meaning — in a year where high school kids have largely been cooped up — to get out and play.
“We want our kids to mature as basketball players,” he said. “We want to give them every opportunity to grow, and when you’re not allowed to practice for all that time, now you’re starting late. We don’t want to short kids on their ability to be a really good basketball player, so we’re looking at every angle they can to play as much as possible, to get better for next year, or if they’re maybe going to go play in college, so it’s important.”