Fourth-year McDonell girls basketball coach Don Cooper knows what his team needs to do well to succeed and it can be summed up in one simple word — defense.
The Macks are off to a 6-2 start after scoring a 55-51 nonconference win over Clear Lake last Friday. Many new faces are working their way into the McDonell lineup after a Division 5 regional championship team from a season ago faced some significant departures with graduation. But as the team prepares for another nonconference game this Saturday at Gilmanton, the team has managed to keep playing strong defense as those new faces get acclimated.
McDonell is allowing 43.9 points per game this season and has the second best point differential (12.5) among Chippewa County teams, trailing only Bloomer (23.5).
“We like to set the tempo, we like to dictate the tempo,” Cooper said.
Initially in last Friday’s win, Clear Lake had success getting the ball up the court and getting easy shots around the rim before the Macks switched to a 2-1-2 style of full court trap.
The Macks like to employ an up-tempo press defense designed to make life difficult for opponents as soon as they inbound the ball. Guards Grace Mrozinski, Payton Swoboda, Maggie Craker and Abby Wampler can often be found at the top of that press, contesting passes and just making teams move faster than they are comfortable.
Behind the guards, forwards Abby Opsal, Megan Baier, Jessica Eisenreich and center Olivia Kressin have been more than capable of keeping teams from throwing over the press while playing strong enough to give those guards the confidence to play at a mile-a-minute pace.
The team has worked some other younger players into the lineup and Cooper believes they’ll continue to get more comfortable as the season goes on.
“It’s just a matter of the speed, the level of speed and adjusting to that level of speed,” Cooper said.
The Macks are tied for third in the Western Cloverbelt Conference with Stanley-Boyd at 3-2. McDonell has lost just once since falling to the Orioles 56-52 on Dec. 1, a nine-point defeat to second-place Osseo-Fairchild on Dec. 14.
Out of conference the Macks have been perfect with impressive victories over Clayton (45-35 on Dec. 2) and the Warriors last Friday. The Bears knocked off McDonell in the sectional semifinals last season with the Macks returning the favor against the now 8-2 Clayton at the start of the month.
Following Saturday’s game at Gilmanton, the Macks jump back into conference play in a big way when they host conference leader Regis on Jan. 4 with return engagements against the Orioles (Jan. 12) and Thunder (Jan. 26) in the near future as well. McDonell will continue to be challenged out of league as well with games against Grantsburg (5-3) on Jan. 13 and Flambeau (7-0) on Feb. 12.
As good as the Macks have played on the defensive end so far, Cooper wants his team to reach another level as they reach the homestretch of the regular season.
“First of all, it’s getting us rested. Second of all it’s improving our defense, improving our overall team defense,” Cooper said. “That’s been our ticket for so long and not letting up on opponents when we have them.”
1) Chi-Hi/Menomonie girls hockey at Eau Claire Area girls hockey tournament, Wednesday-Thursday
Fans looking to catch the co-op will have plenty of chances this week as Chi-Hi/Menomonie plays three games at Hobbs Ice Arena in Eau Claire. The schedule begins with two games on Wednesday — against the Fond du Lac/Beaver Dam co-op at 9 a.m. and versus the Fox Cities Stars later in the day at 3 p.m. Chi-Hi/Menomonie wraps up play on Thursday against the Appleton United at 11 a.m.
2) Bloomer/Colfax, Cadott, Cornell/Gilman at Northern Badger Classic, Thursday-Friday
Three of the county’s wrestling teams take part in one of the best tournaments of the season this week when River Falls hosts the Northern Badger Classic on Thursday and Friday with action starting at 8 and 7 a.m., respectively.
3) Bloomer boys basketball at Altoona, Friday, 7:15 p.m.
The second of two games on the first night of the Altoona holiday tournament is a battle of conference leaders as Heart O’North Conference leader Bloomer battles one of the Western Cloverbelt Conference leaders with the host Railroaders.
Athletes of the Week
Boys: McDonell’s Hayden Baughman and Bloomer’s Payton Dachel
Both prolific scorers hit significant milestones this past week. Baughman hit the career 1,000-point plateau during McDonell’s 62-61 loss to Osseo-Fairchild last Thursday while Dachel became Bloomer’s all-time leading scorer with a 24-point performance in a 67-41 victory over Spooner on Friday. Baughman and Dachel check in at first and fourth, respectively, among this week’s boys basketball scoring leaders.
Girls: Danielle Fasbender, Cornell
The senior scored a game-high 17 points to lead the Cornell girls basketball team past New Auburn 47-37 on Thursday. The win moves Cornell into a tie with the Trojans two games behind Flambeau in the East Lakeland Conference standings.