By Jim Rueda firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — The element of surprise was on the side of the Mankato Loyola girls basketball team last season. That’s not likely to happen in 2013-14.
Most girls basketball aficionados assumed the Crusaders would be good last season, and they were. But given their youth, those same fans figured the team was probably a year away from making a serious postseason run.
Loyola arrived a year earlier than expected, however, rolling to the Section 2A championship before losing in the first round of the state tournament 59-49 to Win-E-Mac. Loyola finished the year at 26-4.
This season the Crusaders return as the team to beat in Section 2A, and they say they’re ready.
“We won’t be sneaking up on anybody this year,” Loyola senior Aunikah Bastian said. “Everybody’s going to prepare as hard as they can when they play us, and we’re going to have to be ready.”
Teammate Jordyn Theuninck agreed: “We’re probably going to have a target on our backs this year, but that just means we’ll have to work harder. What we did last year doesn’t mean anything. We have to earn whatever we get all over again this year.”
Most of last year’s Loyola squad returns intact. Post Alyssa Mettler has graduated, but Annie Nawrocki got a lot of playing time at that position last season and comes in as the starter this winter.
Helping the senior Nawrocki (5-foot-11) out at the post will be junior Lexy Clow (5-10) and Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial transfer Megan Schroeder (5-9). The junior Schroeder is not quite as tall as the other two but jumps well and brings a lot of experience to the squad.
“We’re definitely going to miss Alyssa,” Nawrocki said. “We called ourselves B-squared last year (for the two Beasts) because we took pride in our defense and rebounding. But Megan has fit right in, and Lexy is going to get more minutes, too.”
Loyola’s guard contingent will be led by seniors Bastian, Jordyn Strachan and Jordyn Theuninck along with freshman Lindsey Theuninck. Bastian was the team’s leading scorer last season at 10.5 points per game. She was followed by Lindsey Theuninck (9.3), Strachan (8.4) and Nawrocki (7.2).
Coach Rick Theuninck said one of the first priorities for this year’s team is to improve it’s defense. In their state tournament game, the Crusaders were inundated with foul calls for reaching in on their opponents, and he wants to cut those down drastically.
“If you’re playing good defense, you don’t have to reach in so much to get turnovers,” he said. “That’s something we’ve been working on in practice. The better defense you play, the more your offense can feed off it.”
Even though last season’s state-tournament finish was a letdown for the Crusaders, Strachan believes they can build on it.
“Having played in the state tournament last year, even though we lost, is going to be good experience for us,” she said. “We’re determined to practice hard and play hard to try to get back.
“Our ultimate goal is to win a state championship. That’s going to motivate us all season.”