The Northwestern Tigers are coming off their second straight regional title and ended last season with a 15-3 record.

But they lost tall players to graduation and haven’t been able to fill the gaps, said coach Paul Eberhardt. Junior Gabby Risley is the tallest player on the team at 5 feet, 11 inches, but Eberhardt said she’s more of a guard than a post player.

As a result, the Tigers are going to change the way they play, working on more double teams on defense and using their quickness to their advantage.

Furthermore, they’re always up for a challenge.

“We've got a bunch of girls that aren't really going to back down against adversity,” Eberhardt said. “They want to play good teams and push themselves. They want to compete.”

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Northwestern’s Abby Wennersten (23) dribbles around a garbage can during a drill at practice Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, at Northwestern High School in Maple.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Northwestern’s Abby Wennersten (23) dribbles around a garbage can during a drill at practice Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, at Northwestern High School in Maple. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

It also helps to have a strong leader in Tieryn Plasch, the Heart O’ North Conference’s reigning Player of the Year. Plasch, a junior, led the Tigers in scoring last season with 19.8 points per game; in assists with 5.3; in steals with 4.0; and in 3-point shooting percentage at 41%. She was second on the team in rebounds per game with 5.6.

“Tieryn not only happens to be a really good player, she's also one of the best leaders I've had the chance to coach … She's extremely motivated to be successful,” Eberhardt said.

In addition to Risley and Plasch, the Tigers return senior Abby Wennersten. Eberhardt said he expects senior Madi Guentzel; juniors Madison Bobula, Annalee Sutherland and Alison Raboin; and sophomore Shayna Wick to make an impact on varsity this year.

The Tigers open their season at home against Ashland at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30.

Northwestern’s Tieryn Plasch (1) shoots a layup at practice Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, at Northwestern High School in Maple.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Northwestern’s Tieryn Plasch (1) shoots a layup at practice Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, at Northwestern High School in Maple. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Spartans look to build on last year

All five starters are back for the Superior Spartans, and they’re ready to play a full season.

The Spartans lost eight weeks last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and finished 8-6 overall.

But a lot has changed in a year. Not only will they get their full slate of games, but the players can also shed their masks thanks to the proliferation of vaccines, which is something they’re excited about, said coach Dave Kontny.

This year’s squad includes seniors Emma Cooper and Natalie Sigfrids; juniors Savannah Leopold, Emma Raye, Ava Stratton and Lauren Gunderson; sophomores Kloe Zentkowski and Eva Peterson; and freshman Annabel Manion.

Superior’s Savannah Leopold (20) drives on the Ashland defense in the first half of the game in Superior in February 2021. 
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
Superior’s Savannah Leopold (20) drives on the Ashland defense in the first half of the game in Superior in February 2021. Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

When assessing his team, Kontny said simply, “We play well together. We're going to have nice depth. We have basketball players.”

Whether at early morning weight lifting sessions or afternoon practices, Kontny said the girls on his team look forward to playing and want to be successful.

Athleticism is one of areas where the team excels, and Kontny said they plan to play more aggressively as a result.

“We're going to get up and down the court — we're going to use our athleticism to our strength,” he said.

As for what the Spartans will look to improve on this year, Kontny said defense.

“Defensively I think you can always get better,” he said.

The Spartans will travel to Chippewa Falls on Tuesday, Nov. 23, for their first game of the season. Tip-off is set for 7:15 p.m.

Superior head coach Dave Kontny, left, talks to Kloe Zentowski (13) and Eva Peterson (23) during a timeout in the first half of the Spartans' victory over South Shore at SHS Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. 
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
Superior head coach Dave Kontny, left, talks to Kloe Zentowski (13) and Eva Peterson (23) during a timeout in the first half of the Spartans' victory over South Shore at SHS Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

Eagles look to mix it up

First-year coach Sarah Smith, who served as an assistant under former coach Adam Bielmeier, said her players have handled a rollercoaster start to their season in stride.

The Solon Springs School District saw a spike in COVID-19 cases recently, which forced classes to go virtual. The school board held a special meeting to assess the situation the night before the girls basketball team was slated to start practice.

Officials decided students could return to school, and basketball began on time, but Smith said it was “just a little crazy jumping into the season” when less than 24 hours prior, they weren’t sure when the season would begin.

Northwood’s Peyton Downs (23) catches a half court pass over the outstretched arms of Solon Springs’ Maddelyn Swanson (14) in the first half of the game Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in Solon Springs. 
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Northwood’s Peyton Downs (23) catches a half court pass over the outstretched arms of Solon Springs’ Maddelyn Swanson (14) in the first half of the game Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in Solon Springs. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

To top it off, a few of the team’s players were recovering from COVID-19.

The Eagles return senior Maddelyn Swanson and juniors Kyra Latvala, Bailey Monson, Gretchen Hammond, Claire Holmstrom and Izzy Molina. New members include freshmen Ella Postl, Jaelyn Gehl and Paetyn Simonson.

Experience will be a benefit to the Eagles, Smith said.

“I think it's helpful that we have girls who have two and three years of varsity experience … we'll be able to get the other three freshmen up to speed quickly,” she said.

Last year’s team finished 10-11, but Smith said they’re looking to change things up this year. They’re going to run new offensive schemes and work on playing more aggressive defense, she said.

The Eagles kicked off their season this week against Northwood. Next they will host Webster at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 23.

Solon Springs’ Claire Holmstrom (21) fights with Northwood’s Zoey Vaara (11) and Emmalee Golembiewski (5) for a rebound Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in the first half of the game in Solon Springs. 
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Solon Springs’ Claire Holmstrom (21) fights with Northwood’s Zoey Vaara (11) and Emmalee Golembiewski (5) for a rebound Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in the first half of the game in Solon Springs. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram