With the high school basketball season finally underway, the Orono Girls Basketball team is hoping to pick up where they left off last year. After suffering a loss to Holy Angels in the 6AAA section final last February, the team returns under the leadership of first year head coach Chris Bjorgaard. Coach Bjorgaard comes to Orono with extensive coaching experience at the high school level and on the AAU circuit. Coach Bjorgaard has added Alison Nash-Gerlach to his staff along with Orono alum, Danielle Jorgenson.

Coach Bjorgaard returns four of five starters from last year’s squad including Kaila Youngs, Haley Paulson, Lauren Knudson and Elle Johnson. What would have been their fifth starter, two-time All Conference guard Julia Knudson, has been lost to a season ending knee injury. With the graduation of only one senior, Orono returns a number of other players with varsity experience led by Sophia Gunderson, Kayla Kallenbach, Eliza McKown and Grace Knooihuizen. With that experience to lean on, the team’s goal is to compete for a conference crown, return to the section final and earn a chance to make a state tournament appearance.

Benilde-St. Margaret

The Orono Girls basketball team started off their season Saturday, Jan. 16, versus the Benilde-St. Margaret Red Raiders, a potential section opponent. After a very slow, disjointed start on the offensive end, Orono went into the halftime break down 24-12. The team shot just 1-22 in that half, although they were moving the ball well. On a positive note, the Lady Spartans worked hard on the defensive end and held talented Benilde freshman Olivia Olson to six points.

In the second half, the team settled in on the offensive end, started converting on some 3-pointers and played much better team basketball. After getting down by 21 with less than 10-minutes remaining in the contest, the Lady Spartans ramped up their defensive pressure full court and made a run. Beginning at the 7:30 mark, the Spartans applied their press and went on a 16-0 run. With 1:33 on the clock, Orono was within six points at 51-57. Forced to foul, the Lady Spartans were unable to erase the deficit, losing with a final score of 63-56.

Committing 26 turnovers, poor shooting and being outrebounded 45-37 on the day was too much to overcome. However, the strong second half performance was a picture of what the team was capable of.

Orono was led in scoring by Kayla Kallenbach with 13.

Benilde was led in scoring by Olivia Olson with 21.

Scoring – Kallenbach 13, Paulson 12, L. Knudson 8, Youngs 8, McKown 5, Knooihuizen 4, Johnson 3, Kapnser 2, Davis 1

Rebounds – Youngs 9, Knooihuizen 8

Assists – L. Knudson 3

Steals – Youngs 3, L. Knudson 2

New Prague

The Orono Girls team traveled to New Prague High School on Friday, Jan. 22 for its first of two meetings this year. Given the shortened season due to COVID, the team will play a total of 18 regular season games, mainly Wright County Conference opponents.

Coming off a loss to Benilde-St. Margaret, the Lady Spartans looked to build on that experience. With the intent to play a fast-paced, aggressive style of basketball, the Lady Spartans came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. Pushing the pace, scoring quickly and limiting turnovers was important on this night. The Lady Spartans found success early and often against an inexperienced New Prague team. New Prague, the defending Wright County Conference champion, graduated four starters and a total of seven seniors from last year. Great ball movement and strong defensive play by all led to easy transition baskets for the Orono team.

The entire varsity team played extended minutes in the New Prague game. Freshman Estelle Atkinson and Evie Kompelien scored their first high school varsity points in the victory, contributing five a piece.

Orono won the game with a final score of 78-26.

Scoring – Kallenbach 14, Paulson 12, Youngs 12, L. Knudson 7, Gunderson 6, Johnson 6, McKown 6, Atkinson 5, Kompelien 5, Kapsner 3, Knooihuizen 2

Rebounds – Johnson 9, Paulson 9, Knooihuizen 7

Assists – Paulson 3, L. Knudson 2, Youngs 2

Steals – Youngs 3

Mound Westonka

The Orono girls team welcomed Mound-Westonka to their home court on Tuesday, Jan. 26. The Orono girls continued where they left off the week before. Orono pushed the pace throughout the contest and shot 40 percent from the floor, while committing only 12 turnovers. More impressive yet, the Lady Spartans had 21 assists on 23 made field goals for the game. Kaila Youngs had an exceptional game making 4-5 3’s on the night, while doling out three assists, grabbing three rebounds and blocking four shots.

Final score was 58-18.

Scoring – Youngs 17, Kallenbach 9 , Johnson 7, L. Knudson 7, Paulson 7, Kompelien 4, McKown 3, Atkinson 2, Gunderson 2

Rebounds – Johnson 6, Knooihuizen 6

Assists – Johnson/L. Knudson/McKown/Paulson/Youngs 3

Steals – L. Knudson 3

Holy Family

The Orono Spartans Girls basketball team (2-1) followed up Tuesday’s conference tilt by welcoming conference opponent, the Holy Family Fire, to its home court. Holy Family (2-1) came into the game led by 6’2” sophomore wing, Sophie Hall. Hall was averaging 21 points and nine rebounds through their first three contests. In addition to Hall, junior Nicole Bowlin has provided leadership, grit and scoring for the youthful Fire squad. Bowlin came into the game averaging 16 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

Under the leadership of new coach Chris Bjorgaard, the team has completely bought into his aggressive, team first approach to playing both ends of the court. Aggressive defense predicated on ball pressure and trust in your teammates along with selfless offensive ball movement has created an entertaining, exciting style of play.

It was evident from the outset that nothing was going to come easy for Hall or Bowlin that night. Bowlin was pressured full court by Knudson and McKown for the entire game. Youngs and the other Orono defenders continually challenged Hall to put the ball on the floor, not allowing her any open looks at the 3-point line. Hall ended the night 0-10 from the floor with four points. Bowlin carried the load for the Fire along with freshman Sophie Zay scoring 17 and 12, respectively.

It wasn’t easy for the Lady Spartans though either. Although they had chances, shots were not falling early. Strong rebounding and defense helped to keep things close. Lauren Knudson started the scoring at the 14:29 mark with a quick layup. The game was tied at 6-6 until the 10 minute mark when Haley Paulson hit a nice floater. Another layup by Knudson and two consecutive 3-pointers by Haley Paulson put the Lady Spartans up 10 at 16-6 with 6:30 to go in the first half. Remaining aggressive offensively, Orono slowly ramped up its transition game. That combined with a decisive rebounding advantage behind the strength of Sophia Gunderson, Elle Johnson and Grace Knooihuizen sent Orono to the halftime break with a 29-15 lead.

Coming out of the break, Orono worked methodically against Holy Family’s zone defense. Buckets by Kaila Youngs, and consecutive 3-pointers by Haley Paulson and Eliza McKown extended the lead to 47-23 with 10 minutes remaining in the game.

Although the game was never in doubt, Holy Family did chip away at the lead coming within 13 points at 54-41 with 3:09 to go in the game. But a couple of nice transition baskets from Kaila Youngs and Lauren Knudson, assisting each other on both, extended the lead to 17 once again, providing an opportunity for the JV team to come into the game with 1:38 to go.

It was a great opportunity for Avery Kapsner, Madi Davis, Freya Clifford, Evie Kompelien and Estelle Atkinson to compete against Holy Family’s varsity squad.

Final score was 58-48.

Overall, it was a solid game for the Lady Spartans. The girls scored 31 points in transition with 18 assists on 24 made field goals. Elle Johnson and Sophia Gunderson worked tirelessly on the boards each collecting double digit rebounds, 11 and 10 respectively.

The girls return to action on Tuesday, Feb. 2 with a tough conference opponent, the Hutchinson Tigers, at the Lindsay Whalen Gymnasium in Hutchinson.

Scoring – Paulson 15, Youngs 15, L. Knudson 14, McKown 6, Kallenbach 4, Gunderson 2, Knooihuizen 2

Rebounds – Gunderson 11, Johnson 10

Assists – Kallenbach 4, Knooihuizen/L. Knudson 3

Steals – McKown/Youngs 2

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