Girls' basketball: Cardinals want more than positivity
Anyone who attended the Spring Valley Cardinals girls' basketball team's first game of the 2018-19 season probably noticed an added amount of enthusiasm to the team's bench. Whether a teammate checked out of the game, sunk a free throw or jumped on a loose ball, the Cardinals would jump to their feet to liven up the crowd without hesitation.
Senior co-captain Lydia Wittmer has made positivity a priority for herself and her teammates, who are coming off of a 1-22 season. "By me staying positive and reminding others that even when we are losing we can't get down on each other, that'll help," Wittmer said. "I've learned since I was a freshman that you don't put the blame on anyone, you just have to better yourself for the team. I think that's something that needs to be spread out through our team this year."
The extra enthusiasm will be crucial for the Cardinals this season, but this year's Cardinals team isn't settling with "staying positive".
The Cardinals presented a playoff-like atmosphere as they climbed back from a 12-point deficit in their season opener against Pepin/Alma on Thursday, Nov. 15, but the team's disappointment was evident after they committed more than 30 turnovers, sent the Eagles to the free-throw line 39 times, and ultimately dropped their first game 52-45.
"We have to play better," Cardinals head coach Sean Hoolihan said. "I was really happy with our effort, as always, but we have to slow things down in our minds."
The Cardinals found themselves down 26-18 at halftime after committing typical first-game-of-the-season errors. Spring Valley played aggressively on the offensive end and were led by Sandy Bune who attacked open driving lanes, but the team was unable to finish multiple bunny shots that cost them in the long run. The Cardinals were able to stay out of foul trouble in the first half and outrebounded the Eagles throughout the night but committed their 10th team foul of the second half with 10 minutes, 13 seconds left to play in the game.
"I think it was a product of our kids were just trying to make things happen on defense," Hoolihan said of his team's second-half foul trouble. "We rebounded pretty well tonight. They didn't get a lot of second chances; they just always got two free throws."
Junior Lexi Johansen who led the Cardinals in scoring during the 2017-18 season finished as her team's leading scorer on Thursday night with 12 points and hit a game-changing 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 46-44 with two minutes to go in the game. However, two late Spring Valley turnovers forced the home team to send their opponents to the charity stripe five times in the final minute and a half of play.
Giving max effort hasn't been an issue for Spring Valley the past two seasons, but the Cardinals are now tasked with cleaning up their sloppy errors before they stick with the team throughout the season. Wittmer has confidence in her team's ability to do so.
"I felt like last year we had a lot to do in such little time before our first game, but I think this year we are a lot more put together," Wittmer said. "We're working on our offense a lot harder than we usually do."
All players who dressed for Thursday night's varsity game saw court time and contributed to their team's comeback effort. Wittmer has seen more commitment from all of her teammates so far this season, which has prompted her early confidence for the 2018-19 season. "I'm a lot more confident this year that we're going to do better," Wittmer said. "Last year I was a little hesitant, but this year I'm a lot more open-minded and I think that things are going to work out if we keep trying. If we keep putting the time in, things will come to us even though we haven't been winning so much these last couple of years.
"There are more girls here who want to be here. All of the freshmen come to practice every single day ready, and I was kind of surprised during the first week of practice by how many younger girls act like they want to be here. I think we have a lot of girls here who want to be here and want to win, which is good for us."
The want is there, but Hoolihan believes his players still need to work on their belief that they can win every game on their schedule.
"My mindset is that whoever we're playing, we're going out there to win," Hoolihan said prior to his team's first game of the season. "I don't think we're quite there yet as a team. It's going to take some max effort, but I know the girls have the mindset that they can go in and compete.
"If our kids get closer to expecting to win when they step on the court, and we feel as though we ended up closer as a team by the end of the season, then I'll consider this year a success."
Hoolihan and his girls will continue to build team confidence and chemistry as the season progresses, and their first challenge will be to turn the page from Thursday night's game before entering their Tuesday, Nov. 20, game at Clear Lake.
Spring Valley scoring: Johansen 12, Bune 11, Brenna Schreiber 7, Morgan Rustad 5, Jasmine Ortner 4, Erin Stans 3, Kari Hybben 2, Wittmer 1.