Lightning develop young players, hoping they will be ready for March
Gleaning wisdom from motivational books is an Eastview athletic tradition, and it was no different for the Lightning girls basketball team.
Except this season it came from a book targeted to people younger than the Eastview players. Shortly after they gathered in November to begin fall practice, coach Molly Kasper read to them – from a children’s book.
“After the Fall” purports to examine what happened to Humpty Dumpty of nursery rhyme fame after he fell off the wall. Kasper said she thought it could resonate with the Lightning, who returned just two players with varsity experience this season after qualifying for the state tournament eight consecutive years.
“We’ve talked about this being a year of, ‘How are we going to get back up?’” Kasper said. “In the book, it’s about learning how to fly, how the egg hatches and becomes this bird. You’re going to take some hits, but that’s OK. How are you going to fight back?”
The Lightning, 5-7 overall, have taken some uncharacteristically ugly defeats, such as a 60-21 loss to Simley during the St. Olaf Holiday Classic, a game in which Eastview scored just six points in the second half.
Coming out of the holiday break last week the Lightning, showing a renewed commitment to defense, defeated Eagan 52-32 in a South Suburban Conference game. But a 67-38 loss to Lakeville North on Tuesday dropped them to 3-2 in the conference, two games out of the lead.
The full South Suburban grind resumes now, with teams playing two conference games a week until the end of the regular season in late February. “It’s just going to put us where we want to be come March,” Kasper said. “We need to practice something and then see if we can do it in a game. The conference will help us get better at a really high pace.”
Kasper wanted to see more from the Lightning on defense. Eastview allowed 80 points against Wayzata in a season-opening loss and 76 to Burnsville in conference play. The 32 Eagan scored Jan. 2 were 12 fewer than any other Eastview opponent has had this season.
“We have not had pride on defense like we’ve had in the past,” Kasper said. “In the last week we have slowly started to build our pride on defense, and we’re getting there. A lot of the problem was I thought we were really timid. We were getting beat to every loose ball (in the St. Olaf tourney), but we won probably the majority of the loose balls (in the Eagan game). Our energy on switches was completely different.”
Junior guard Cassidy Carson and senior forward Brynn Schwanz are the only two players with significant varsity experience. Carson has verbally committed to the University of South Dakota, where former Lightning guard Macy Guebert currently plays. Carson had 19 points in the Eagan game and could have taken more shots if she chose. She leads the Lightning in scoring with a 15.2 average.
Schwanz, who plans to play basketball at the University of St. Thomas, averages 8.5 points, second on the team.
“The biggest pieces are the leadership pieces. We’ve had great leaders in the past who waited and waited until it was their turn,” Kasper said. “Now we need to see that leadership out of (Carson and Schwanz), and that takes time to develop. Basketball-wise, they’re going to do what it takes. They’re the biggest competitors and have played on state championship teams. We’ll keep building on that.”
Two players expected to have key roles, junior guard Alexis Plitzkow and sophomore forward Faith Morris, are back in the lineup after missing several games, Plitzkow because of an ankle injury and Morris because of mononucleosis. Senior guard Isabella Tatum is one of several Eastview players with three-point range. The Lightning also have worked young players such as ninth-graders Kaitlyn Schaefer and Kylie Smith, and sophomore Sierra Herber, into the rotation.
Eagan is 5-7 overall and 0-5 in the South Suburban following a 64-61 loss to Burnsville on Tuesday. The Wildcats also are a young team with just two seniors – captains Taylor Grebin and Ashleigh Erickson – on the roster. Sophomore forward Jocelyn Plonski had 11 points and 14 rebounds against Eastview, and sophomore Lily Fandre pulled down eight rebounds.
Kasper said everybody associated with Lightning needs to be patient, including players and coaches. She said there have been times this season when she wondered why players weren’t doing some of the things she wanted during games, then realized the younger girls on the team hadn’t yet learned everything that was expected.
“We are starting to execute a little, probably starting to understand what the coaches are asking for,” Kasper said. “We know there’s a bigger purpose for all of this. My purpose is not the win-loss column. More than any year, this is a test of having to live by that. If I preach it in all the other years when we had more wins, we have to live it now, too.”
Eastview will be at home against Apple Valley at 7 p.m. Friday. Eagan goes to Lakeville North at 7 p.m. Thursday and plays a non-conference game at Minneapolis Southwest at 7 p.m. Saturday.