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Szczyrbak sister may be smaller, but she’s no pushover

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 Growing up with a brother bigger than most, Ava Szczyrbak has learned to be fiercely competitive.

The forward surely has helped make the Moose Lake-Willow River girls basketball team competitive this winter, as the Rebels recently propelled past Polar League visitor Cromwell-Wright 39-33 in a defensive grind last Thursday night in Willow River, the Rebels’ sixth win in eight games.

Szczyrbak, a 5-foot-9 Moose Lake sophomore, may be much smaller than her elder brother, Ezra — a 6-foot-5, 240-pound senior center on the boys basketball team and Minnesota Mr. Football finalist, as a two-way Division-I lineman — but Ava’s no push-over, either, says her coach.

“She’s got a motor that doesn’t quit,” said second-year ML-WR Coach Joe Adamczak of his gritty post player.

Posting eight points in the Rebels (6-2) single-digit win last week, Szczyrbak — still critiquing her scoring touch — is one of many pillars to a ML-WR defense that only allows 42.1 points per game and commonly wears down its foes.

“You can’t win without defense, that’s where it all starts,” said Szczyrbak, a lengthy player atop their press, as well as a strong, cutting post in a Princeton-style offense.

Although offense was limited, the Rebels ran to a 22-14 halftime lead last week and held the Cardinals (3-4) off in the final minutes, with draining defense and late free throws.

“Our shots just didn’t fall, but that’s in part of their good defense,” said second-year Cromwell-Wright Coach Jeff Gronner. “We like to push the pace, but that was a defensive game they made hard with the pressure that they put on us.”

“They’re one we always look to beat,” said lone Cardinals senior Allie Cahoon, who scored a game-high 16 points in defeat. “It stinks we don’t get to play them again.”

Playing is something Szczyrbak — and her teammates — did a lot last summer, their efforts now showing in early-year wins. It’s a team effort. Along with Szczyrbak, Adamczak noted classmates Hannah Walker and Morgan Prachar as up-and-coming players, while six seniors mix well with junior threat Adri Jusczak.

“I’m really happy with the girls,” Adamczak said.

Jusczak, who scored a team-leading 12 points last week, was also pleased, especially getting to face Szczyrbak daily.

“She gives 110-percent — she’s tough,” Jusczak said.

Just as she’s learned from her bigger-than-most brother.

“I really look up to him,” Ava said. “He’s always been a good example for me. Not just sports, but as a good person.”


Barnum (6-2) bolted its way to the Two Harbors Invitational crown, but since their tournament title Dec. 28, the Bombers haven’t had a game to begin the New Year.

Carlton (1-7) couldn’t snap its current five-game losing spurt, as the Bulldogs were hammered by Polar League-leading McGregor 76-33 last Thursday in Carlton.

Cloquet (7-2) conquered Bemidji 59-35 in the battle of the Lumberjacks Saturday, making six wins in seven efforts.

Esko (7-1) edged visiting Pequot Lakes 72-67 last week and the Eskomos stay unbeaten on Saturdays, their luckiest day of the week.