Thunder winless, yet confident
Mandi Maruca signed up to be a college basketball player, but some days it might seem like the freshman is a cross country star.
The 5-foot-10-inch center is one of just eight members of the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College women's basketball team.
"It can get pretty difficult sometimes, not to be able to sit down and take a breather," said Maruca of the slim lineup. "Usually by the end of the game, we're all gassed out, but other teams are impressed by how we can run and keep up with so few players."
As is their play-caller, first-year coach Melissa Johnson.
"It doesn't matter if we're down 10 points or 30 points," Johnson said. "The level of speed, hustle and intensity never goes down. Some teams have up to 25 players. Right now, we have eight."
It's that determination that Johnson brought to the program when she was offered the difficult task of taking over the FDLTCC team following last winter's forfeited season due to a lack of numbers.
This year, despite a winless start and battle with numbers again, Johnson has her Thunder (0-7) competing.
"Definitely, it's been difficult at times, especially with the numbers that we have," said Johnson, "but this group is working hard together."
Thus far, FDLTCC has dropped contests against
Vermilion, Riverland, Gogebic, Central Lakes, Fergus Falls and most recently against Rochester 87-31 last Friday, as well as Western Tech 85-38 Saturday afternoon.
Johnson explained there were fewer than five players at the first practice she attended, while on their latest road trip her team only sported six players for their weekend doubleheader schedule.
"Usually at the end of the first half, things are close," said Maruca, a Duluth East graduate who played one year with the Greyhounds' varsity. "But by the second we're pretty tired. We're getting there, though."
Johnson said Maruca and McGregor's Sarah Sample are a force on the blocks.
"Those two work so hard, as do all of the players," Johnson said, "but those two are where we want to go to. They're both really tough."
Circling around Maruca and Sample are guards Shelby Halverson (Moose Lake-
Willow River) and Sammy Johnson (Floodwood), while point guard Kasie Gokee does a majority of the ball-handling in the backcourt. Coach Johnson said Sample and Halverson joined after the team's opening game, while Sammy Johnson jumped on two games ago to help the club's depth, which is also battling injuries.
"We have a strong team," Maruca said. "We're still all learning each other's games and really getting to know each other, but I think things are
Against Western Wisconsin Saturday, Maruca posted a triple-double, recording double-digits in points, rebounds and blocks. She played all 40 minutes and though her team lost, she remained optimistic.
"Slowly, but surely, we're getting there," Maruca said. "Teams overlook us, and yeah, it could be tough this year, but next year, we'll be even better."
The way her girls are hustling, Coach Johnson thinks the good news will come sooner than that.
"I'm very confident that after Christmas we're going to start knocking off some wins," she said. "Sure, it's important to get wins, but I couldn't be happier with how this team perseveres. From where we were at our first game to where we are now, it definitely shows that they are all improving. The talent level is picking up, and we just want them to continue to work hard and have fun."
The FDLTCC men's program is also winless, having lost to the same seven opponents as the women. In their seven defeats, the Thunder (0-7) is allowing 91 points per game, compared to their 61 average points per night.
"Our biggest problem is we're turning the ball over," said first-year Coach Damien Paulson. "In any league, when you turn the ball over 25 times, it's going to lead to easy buckets and easy points. Our defense is fine - we just have to start more shots and, most importantly, take better care of the basketball."
FDLTCC lost to Rochester 88-55 last Friday and Western Tech 76-57 Saturday. Cromwell-Wright freshman Pat Dahl led the scoring Friday with 11 points, including a trio of three-pointers, while AlBrook sophomore Kolten Karppinen led the Thunder with 15 points Saturday, all coming off the sharp-shooter's five triples.