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Rib Lake knows where it needs to get better this season

Rib Lake knows where it needs to get better this season Rib Lake knows where it needs to get better this season


Wins have not come easily the past two seasons for the Rib Lake girls basketball team and, realistically, the Lady Redmen know the only way they are going to add to their win total in 2020-21 is through their own self-improvement.

For the most part, familiar faces will take the court this winter, looking to get better each time they are able to practice and play in a season where nothing will be taken for granted amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s going to be a learning, growing year,” seventh-year head coach Mike Wudi said Monday. “Who knows where the season’s going to go with all of this COVID stuff, just like everybody else. We’re just glad to be playing and we’ll take them as we get them here and hope for the best. This is a nice group of kids. They come to practice with good attitudes. We work hard. We just have to work to improve every week, every game, every practice. That’s our bottom line. We’ll see what happens.”

Two games against Marawood Conference North Division foes Prentice and Chequamegon have already been scratched from the original schedule, leaving Friday’s home contest against Marawood South rival Edgar as the season opener. The good news, according to Wudi, is that the extra time gives Rib Lake needed extra time to practice and prepare. The bad news is Edgar should already have two games in to shake off their rust.

Rib Lake, who finished 3-20 overall and 2-14 in Marawood Conference play last year, then goes to North contender Phillips on Monday.

“We’ll find out what we’re made of right away in our first two games,” Wudi said.

A glance at the earlyseason roster shows a team that is going to feature a lot of youth for the second straight season. But it is a team that starts with a little more varsity experience than it did last year, which could be a plus the team can draw from.

With the departures of 2020 seniors Savana Radtke and Mackenzie Weinzatl, both of whom were All-Marawood North honorable mention choices last year, the players who saw varsity time last year are going to have to step up into more prominent roles. Unfortunately, the summer of COVID robbed them of valuable time to work with each other.

“Some of these kids, they’re juniors now,” Wudi said. “Maybe they’ll be a little more confident. Some of their skills have improved a little bit. Obviously, losing the summer was not good, but it’s the same boat everyone else is in. We’ve only got one way to go. We’re looking to improve.”

The roster starts with just two seniors, Nellie Hopkins and Jolee Gehrke. Hopkins was one of Rib Lake’s more dependable players last winter, averaging 6.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per outing. That included a huge 19-point, eight-rebound effort in a 38-34 win at Tomahawk last Jan. 28. Gehrke contributed 1.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.

The core of the varsity team is filled by juniors such as Reagan Reinhardt, Tia Bube, Lauren Pelnis, Rebekah Strobach, Molly Heiser, Emily Rodman and Tiara Kestler. They saw varying degrees of varsity time last year from full-time roles to mop-up minutes in a handful of games.

Pelnis was off to a solid start last year, averaging 5.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.5 steals before her season ended eight games in due to a knee injury. She is back and ready to go. Reinhardt handled the ball a lot and was the team’s top 3-point shooter last year. Heiser appeared in all 23 games and pulled down 2.7 rebounds per game. Strobach missed eight games due to injury and that loss was felt in the first half of the season. Bube, who played basketball for the first time last year, brings athleticism to the post. “She’ll get a lot of rebounds,” Wudi said. “She’s certainly strong and certainly aggressive.” For Rib Lake to have success, the girls will have to start with a strong defensive foundation.

“We have to play good defense,” Wudi said. “We have to limit people to one shot. I don’t think we’re athletic enough to be a real up-tempo, pressing type group. We have to play some good solid defense. We have to be aggressive. We have to block out. We have to rebound, those kinds of things.”

At times, Rib Lake’s defense was respectable in 2019-20. The Redmen allowed just under 52 points per game and held opponents to 46 points or fewer seven times.

Unfortunately, things never clicked on offense, where the team averaged 26.2 points and 27.7 turnovers per contest. The team also lost about 13 rebounds per game with the departures of Radtke and Weinzatl.

“We have to cut down on turnovers,” Wudi said. “That’s huge. You can’t have all of those empty possessions. Some people have to step into some roles. We have to find a scorer or two. We have to find some leaders as far as who’s going to be that quarterback. I don’t know that I have a true point guard, but I’m going to need some floor leaders, some of that kind of stuff.”

As it stands now, the team’s schedule features 18 games, 15 of which count as Marawood Conference games. So far, there is no make-up date for the Dec. 1 Chequamegon cancellation. Flambeau, Northland Lutheran and Tomahawk are the non-conference opponents.

Phillips is the defending North champion. The Loggers were 12-4 in Marawood play last year and bring back allconference standouts Jada Eggebrecht, Rachel Callow and Brianna Guzinski. Prentice (11-5 last year in league play) was hit with some key losses, but still figures to field a competitive team. Those two teams were head and shoulders above Athens (6-10), Chequamegon (2-14), Abbotsford (2-14) and Rib Lake (2-14) in the North. Chequamegon isn’t planning to start playing games until January.

Crossover games against each of the Marawood South teams again figure to be challenging.

“We’ve only got one way to go and that’s up,” Wudi said. “I think we’re going to be a little better. Some things in practice I really like so far. Then there’s times where I’m cringing because we’re young and we make some mistakes. We just have to see what happens. We have to learn to score. That was a huge issue for us last year.”