Girls Basketball Roundup- Cardinals win holiday titleLocal girls basketball news with a focus on Cromwell-Wright
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
After 36 minutes of hard-pressed basketball, most high school athletes look winded, weak and weary in the final moments.
Jeff Gronner makes sure his Cromwell-Wright girls basketball team looks otherwise. In his first year coaching the Cardinals, the well-known football coach has put together a new up-tempo – and well-conditioned – formula of success for the small Polar League school.
Schooling their opponents last week, the Cardinals captured the Randolph Holiday Tournament title with a 52-50 victory over the host Rockets last Thursday and a 59-52 win past Grand Meadow on Friday, in a game Cromwell-Wright looked fast, furious and fresh (mostly).
“We like to the push the ball, create the tempo and take the first shot,” said Gronner, who took over for Terry Sawdey after assisting the boys program for eight seasons with Bill Pocernich. “But I saw in those last two games down there, we had more energy than anyone out there. I play 10 girls, and I think we’re getting used to running.”
Running isn’t something the Cardinals (7-3) did in the past, but it’s proving to be a successful strategy. The Cardinals are now winners of five straight, including victories over Moose Lake-Willow River, Silver Bay and at Hill City.
“We’ve won a couple games,” said Gronner, “but we’re still not playing our best basketball quite yet.”
In Randolph, Minn., a small town 40 minutes south of the Twin Cities, Cromwell-Wright won on junior guard Allie Cahoon’s right-handed lay-up against the Rockets with three seconds to play, capping off the Cardinals’ 14-point comeback in the remaining seven minutes.
Senior guard Christina Stenson scored all of her weekend-leading 20 points in the final, including a multitude of free throws, in the second half of a game where they held off the surging Superlarks.
Stenson and Cahoon, awarded All-Tournament honors, are aided by starter Ann Collman, the team’s leading rebounder, as well as fellow seniors Brittany and Kayle Johnson. A bench of five substitutes adds abundant depth.
“We’re all really balanced players and are starting to hit our groove,” added Cahoon. “A lot of us have been playing since fourth grade. We’ve always had the same team, like forever. We all grew up together.”
Now they’re growing into Coach Gronner’s new style of play.
“He doesn’t yell as much as at football games,” Stenson said, with a laugh. “We just try to push the ball as hard as we can because we don’t want the other team to get set in position. We run a lot. I like it.”
South Ridge (4-4) liked its results at the Proctor Holiday Invitational, defeating Carlton last Thursday and Proctor Friday for the championship.
The Panthers are led by senior sisters Kayla Jackson and Cedar Savage, while freshman Krystal Karppinen serves as point guard. Sophomore standouts Mikayla Olesiak and Justice Janke are the only returnees.
Both Janke and Olesiak led South Ridge in scoring in Proctor.
“They’re good at everything they do,” third-year Coach Brad Olesiak said of Janke and his daughter, Mikayla. “They’re the only ones back from a team that graduated five starters last year. We’re young, yes, but all of the girls are learning, getting better, and definitely improving.”
Moose Lake-Willow River (7-3) improved their record over the break, finishing runners-up at the loaded Hibbing Holiday Invitational.
The Rebels, despite missing starters Adri Jusczak and Kayla Radel being out of town, defeated Bigfork Thursday, Chisholm Friday and fell to the host Bluejackets 55-44 Saturday for the championship.
“They were bigger, faster, stronger and just a better team than us,” first-year Rebels Coach Joe Adamczak said of Hibbing. “We are still waiting to click in both halves, so we have a ways to go yet, but up there – without two of our starters for 20 points and 20 rebounds – I was really happy.”