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The Orono Spartans faced tough competition in Bloomington Jefferson and Waconia heading into sections, but the girls managed to win out against Jordan. (Submitted photo)

On Monday, March 8, the Orono Girls Basketball team traveled south to Jordan for their second conference meeting of the year. Jordan boasted a 9-6 record entering the game, 7-5 in conference play.

They are led by sophomore post player Jenna Kluxdal and senior Lexi Hagen, both averaging about 14 points per game. Both have length and skill around the basket. They would provide a good challenge for the Spartans.

The Spartans had won their last three games, averaging over 65 points per game. Up tempo and behind a balanced scoring attack with three players averaging double figures, the team was hoping to push its win streak out to four games.

Orono came out strong, shooting the ball well. By the 13-minute mark, Orono was up 18-9. The Spartans also played aggressive defense in the half court. With 3 minutes left in the first half, Orono extended its lead to 38-16. The halftime lead was 42-20. Haley Paulson led the team in the first half with 11 points. Elle Johnson also contributed 10 points in the first half.

In the second half, Orono continued its transition offense and aggressive defense. The lead remained around 20 points until a string of turnovers by the Lady Spartans gave Jordan a little momentum. They were able to convert a couple of Orono turnovers into quick baskets, cutting the lead to 17 with 14:30 to go. However, the Spartans settled down and played with renewed focus and energy. By the 4:28 mark, the lead was 73-43 and Orono’s Junior Varsity team took over. The final score was 77-43.

Orono forced 26 turnovers during the game, converting those turnovers into 27 points. The Spartans shot 51 percent from the floor and 12-12 from the free-throw line. Eliza McKown led the team with 19 points, followed by 16 from Haley Paulson and 12 from Elle Johnson. Kaila Youngs led the team with six rebounds and four blocks to go with 14 points. Lauren Knudson added five assists on the night.

Scoring wer McKown (19), Paulson (16), Youngs (14), Johnson (12), Knudson (6) and Clifford/Gunderson/Kallenbach/Knooihuizen/Kompelien (2). Rebounds were had by Youngs (6) and Johnson/McKown (5), with blocks by Youngs (4) and assists by Knudson (5).

AT BLOOMINGTON JEFFERSON

On Wednesday, March 10, Orono Girls Basketball matched up with Bloomington Jefferson in Bloomington for a non-conference game.

The Lady Spartans started out fast. In the first few minutes, they built a 6-0 lead before Jefferson finally got going. Jefferson shot 0-8 in the beginning of the game. But they turned things around, slowly chipping away at the Spartan lead. It was a 4-point game at 21-17 with 6:30 remaining in the first half. By 4:16, Jefferson grabbed its first lead at 22-21. But Orono battled back and went into the break with a 32-29 lead.

Coming out of halftime, the teams traded baskets. Jefferson was able to get up by as many as 8 points with 12:45 left in the game. Battling back, the Spartans took over, going on a 9-1 run over the next 90 seconds. They tied the game at 44. There would be two more ties during the game, with the last one 57-57 with 6:30 to go.

But missed defensive assignments, turnovers and offensive rebounds gave Jefferson multiple opportunities to score in the final 6:30. That, combined with timely shooting by the Jaguars, resulted in a 15-3 run to close out the game. Final score: Bloomington Jefferson 72, Orono 62.

On the night, Jefferson shot 60 percent from 2-point range, 10-16 from 3-point range.

Orono was led by Kaila Youngs with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Eliza Mckown added 12 points, with Haley Paulson and Kayla Kallenbach adding 10 and 9, respectively.

Scoring were Youngs (16), McKown (12), Paulson (10), Kallenbach (9), Knooihuizen (4) and Gunderson/Knudson (2). Rebounds were had by Youngs (6) with assists by Knudson (5) and steals by Youngs (3).

AT WACONIA

On Friday, March 12, the Orono girls traveled to Waconia to battle for the Wright County Conference crown. Orono’s only conference loss of the year was to Waconia in February. This is the first year since Orono’s state tournament win in 2017 that the team has been in contention. From four wins in the 2018-2019 season, it’s been a steady build with 14 wins last season. This year, behind the balanced scoring and solid defensive play of the Spartans, the girls were ready to compete with Waconia and battle for a share of the conference championship.

Waconia, at 13-0 in conference play, 15-1 overall, plays a run-and-gun style that includes strong post play and a deep roster. The team came into the game ranked #6 in Class 3A, averaging almost 80 points per game. Given the length and athleticism of the Waconia core, Orono would need to disrupt their scoring while also combatting their dominance in the paint.

The game plan was clear early on in the game. Orono packed the paint, inviting Waconia to shoot from the outside. They had some success early on, leading by as many as 10 in the first 8 minutes of the game. Poor shooting and turnovers by Orono contributed to its first half deficit of up to 19 points with about 5 to go. Sydney Olson, a senior from Waconia, long known as an excellent outside shooter, led Waconia with 10 points in the first half, including two 3-point baskets. Orono went into the halftime break down 34-17.

In the second half, Orono finally saw the ball go through the net. The teams traded baskets until about the 13-minute mark when the Spartans were finally able to chip into the Wildcat lead. Consecutive 3’s from Haley Paulson and Kaila Youngs cut the lead to 46-35 with 10 minutes remaining. A transition basket by Elle Johnson cut the lead to single digits at 46-37 for the first time since early in the first half.

But the Wildcats kept pushing. Trading baskets, the lead hovered around the 10-point mark for the next 2-3 minutes. A 5-0 run by the Spartans created some momentum. A basket from Kaila Youngs as well as 4-4 free throw shooting from Youngs and Haley Paulson, cut the lead to 50-55 with 3 minutes remaining. But two huge 3-pointers by the junior duo of Ava Stier and Audrey Swanson effectively ended the comeback run for the Spartans. Those, along with an 18-footer from Dani Dykstra, extended the lead back to 13 at 63-50. Orono ultimately lost 68-58.

Orono outscored Waconia 41-34 in the second half but the deficit was too big to recover from. Kaila Youngs played an excellent second half, leading the way with 16 points, a total of 20 on the night. Haley Paulson contributed 11. Lauren Knudson added 9 and Elle Johnson 8.

Orono ends conference play in second place for the Wright County East at 11-2, 12-5 overall. The team heads into Section play beginning Wednesday, March 17 versus Mound Westonka.

Scoring were Youngs (20), Paulson (11), L. Knudson (9), Johnson (8), Gunderson (4) and Kallenbach/McKown (3). Rebounds were had by Youngs (9) and Johnson (8) with assists by Paulson (3).

ORONO JV

The Junior Varsity team went 1-1 this week to finish with a 11-4 record on the season. Two of their losses came at the hands of Jordan. The team lost a high scoring affair to Jordan on Monday, 64-51. The defense did have 10 blocks during the game. Mady Davis had four blocks while Jada Abed, Hazel Solie and Freya Clifford had two each. Evie Kompelien led the team with six steals. Estelle Atkinson and Evie Kompelien led the offense with 14 and 18 points.

In the Jefferson game, the team jumped out to a 15-5 lead but then went ice cold from the floor to trail at halftime, 15-19. In the second half they found their rhythm en route to a 53-38 victory. Eight of the nine players scored at least 2 points in the second half.

C SQUAD

The C Squad went 1-1 this week to finish the season 8-8. In the Jordan game, our C squad found itself matching up against a more seasoned Jordan team, with many of their players also playing Junior Varsity minutes. Jordan got out to a halftime lead of 27-8 and ultimately won the game 48-26.

The Jefferson game was a thrilling double overtime win by a score of 33-32 with Lexi Arnold hitting the winning free throw in the second overtime period. We jumped out early holding a 22-9 lead at halftime. The team was active on the defensive end, with 11 steals at half (Lexi Arnold had four). The team struggled in the second half to convert free throws, allowing Jefferson back into the game to tie it with 1 second left on the clock. Neither team scored in the first OT. Lexi Arnold was fouled in the second OT and hit the front end of the bonus to give us a 1-point victory.

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