Prep basketball preview: Eagles soar into season
After making a plea to the school board, Solon Springs takes the court.
After Solon Springs went to a virtual learning model, the Eagles senior boys and girls basketball players, knowing basketball wouldn’t start on time, put together a video Nov. 13 that was shared with the school board three days later.
“We explained why we should be able to have sports even though we are virtual, and now, here we are,” said senior girls basketball player Muree Ahlberg.
The school board had a change of heart, reversing its policy that virtual learning should mean no team activities. And now, the Eagles have taken the court.
“It was very deep,” Ahlberg said of the video. “We really thought about everyone in our planning for the video. It took some time to think about what to put in the video and about how we were going to do it. Each of us had a little sentence or two, put it all together and sent it off.”
Ahlberg, the daughter of Solon Springs athletic director Nate Ahlberg, is the lone senior on the Eagles girls basketball team, but she is used to it. Of 20 girls in the Solon Springs class of 2021, she is one of only five girls and the only one who plays sports. She was the only senior on the volleyball team this fall, and in the spring the third baseman will be one of only two seniors, along with shortstop Kayla Schultz of Northwood.
“It’s very interesting,” Muree Ahlberg said. “It’s good to be a leader and know that I have four years of varsity experience to pass on to the other girls.”
Solon Springs only had one senior last year, too, Kylli Rajala, who averaged 12.6 points per game for a team that went 8-16.
In addition to Muree Ahlberg, a forward/guard, the Eagles return leading scorer Kyra Latvala (12.8 ppg), an up-and-coming sophomore guard. Sophomores Claire Holmstrom (7.5 ppg), Gretchen Hammond (4.7 ppg) and Bailey Monson (3.3 ppg) are also back.
Juniors Jori Gehl and Maddelyn Swanson and sophomore Izzy Molina round out the small eight-player roster. Gehl was a first-team all-conference volleyball selection.
“Kyra and Claire got themselves in foul trouble in a lot of games last year, so that will be the biggest thing for them, just keeping themselves in the game as much as they can,” coach Adam Bielmeier said.
Latvala and the 6-foot Holmstrom give the Eagles a nice inside-outside combo to build around over the next three seasons.
“Kyra is a good ball handler who is good at attacking and finding those spaces. She can shoot from the outside and get her teammates involved, and I expect Claire to have a big year, too,” Bielmeier said. “Then with the other girls, I could see a different player each night kind of fill in that scoring role.
“We’re excited to play. We’ve been looking forward to this for awhile. We’re happy that we can actually get something in. I hope we get all 24 games that are scheduled, but who knows? We’re going to get as many games in as we can, one by one.”
Solon Springs began practicing Monday, Nov. 30. The Eagles were supposed to play Mellen Tuesday, Dec. 8, but in the COVID-19 era, you have to be ready for anything, and that game was swapped out for a home contest against Hurley.
“We already had a couple schools drop out due to COVID, and some schools just said no before we even started,” Muree Ahlberg said. “It’ll be a week-to-week basis just like volleyball. It’ll be interesting.”
This fall the Eagles got in 11 volleyball matches, a pretty good haul considering the pandemic.
Muree Ahlberg’s best sport is softball, but she said she loves the atmosphere associated with basketball and just being out on the floor with her teammates.
This year, everyone has to wear a mask covering their nose and mouth at all times unless they are getting a drink of water. Attendance will depend on each host school, but for Solon Springs home games each player will be allotted four tickets for admittance, with visiting teams getting two tickets per player.
“We’re doing virtual until January, so we’re very distant from everyone until we go into the gym at practice time,” Muree Ahlberg said.
Asked what it is like being a senior athlete during the craziest of years, Muree Ahlberg said it's an odd, unpredictable situation.
“You kind of have to take it one day at a time because one day you could have everything, and then the next day, it could all be gone," she said. "So you have to be very protective and cautious about what you’re doing so that you can play with your teammates as long as you possibly can. And enjoy it, because we don’t know how many we’ll get.”
And Muree Ahlberg is enjoying it because this is already more than she thought she’d ever have. You bet she feels fortunate.
“Very much so,” she said. “I was very nervous going into my senior year thinking I might not be able to play any of my sports. We got through volleyball, so I’m hoping we’ll be able to get through basketball, too.”
Eagle boys look to improve
The Solon Springs boys basketball team looks to be improved after going 8-14 overall last year and 8-8 in the Indianhead Conference.
The Eagles have 19 currently playing, including six seniors, four juniors and nine freshmen. That group includes senior forward Calin Lisson, an all-conference honorable mention after averaging 10 points, four rebounds, two blocks and two assists per game. Senior point guard Elijah Molina is another returning starter after averaging five points and three assists per game.
Coach Marcus Besonen is in his third year as head coach after 10 seasons as assistant boys coach.
“We were looking at having a solid group back with a strong incoming freshman class, but we have lost a starter to ACL and others for various reasons,” Besonen said. “We will be relying on some younger talent to step up and contribute for us to be successful and we believe they can, though there will definitely be a learning curve.
“We have a couple teams in the conference that will be looking to have strong seasons, so it will be tough to challenge for the top spot. We are just happy to be able to play at all and view each day playing a win.”