CHISHOLM- Cold shooting is the last thing an underdog team needs when trying to pull off an upset, and that’s what happened to the North Woods girls team in their season-ending 71-31 road loss …
CHISHOLM- Cold shooting is the last thing an underdog team needs when trying to pull off an upset, and that’s what happened to the North Woods girls team in their season-ending 71-31 road loss to Chisholm on March 17.
The Grizzlies couldn’t beg, borrow, or steal a basket for the first 12 minutes of the game, their lone points coming on a pair of Madi Dantes free throws. When Madison Spears grabbed a rebound and finally scored on a putback at the 6:10 mark, Chisholm already had a comfortable 19-4 lead.
“It was a little bit unreal,” Grizzlies Head Coach Liz Cheney said about the slow start. “It was like we were in a bad dream. And the opposite was happening for Chisholm. It seemed like their first shot went in every time they had the ball.”
But the score by Spears seemed to energize the Grizzlies, who finished the half on a 10-6 run that included three hoops by Hannah Kinsey, another from Spears, and a fast break layup by Helen Koch. North Woods was within nine before a Chisholm buzzer beater made the score 25-14 at the half.
“I felt like we just had a slow start, that whatever that was was
about over,” Cheney said “At halftime when we talked to the girls we told them this was still their game to win.”
The Grizzlies found themselves on the ropes again early in the second half as a 13-4 Chisholm blitz ballooned the lead to 20, 38-18, with 13:39 remaining. This time there would be no rally for the young North Woods squad, as a veteran and senior-laden Chisholm unit continued its dominance on both ends of the court to rack up the 40-point win and advance in the sectional tourney.
“We just could not recover because the second half continued much the same way as the first,” Cheney said. “They actually played zone defense because we weren’t hitting anything from outside and that really plugged up the middle for us.”
While six Grizzlies scored in the contest, none reached double figures. Spears led North Woods with eight points.
It was the sixth consecutive loss for North Woods, who in mid-February stood at 5-5. The 12th-seeded Grizzlies had the unenviable task of matching up against six of the top seven teams in the section in that streak, finishing with a 5-11 record.
“It was a real tough way to end a season that was already difficult from COVID,” Cheney said. “My worry is always when you lose and you’re losing by 20 to 30 points what does that do to the team’s morale.”
Knowing the final slate of foes were daunting challenges, Cheney and her assistants had the team focus on clear in-game goals that were attainable even when a game might be out of reach, and that seemed to help, as did a renewed commitment among coaches and players that they would play as hard as they could until the final buzzer sounded.
The upside of a losing record with a relatively young team is the fact that everyone will be back for Cheney next year, and the first-year coach was encouraged by both team and individual development during the season.
“When I thought about the season at the beginning, I knew we were going to miss Coley Olson, because of her speed and defense. But Helen Koch stepped right up into that role. I was really proud of her and excited by her defense and the way she plays the game from beginning to end. Talise Goodsky, Kiana LaRoque, and Hannah Cheney, three girls who for most of their basketball careers since fourth grade have been playing post, showed great improvement with ball handling and taking on the wing position. I feel like we’re really coming together. All the pieces are there for next year.”
Offseason work is going to be key to next year’s success, starting with individual team members getting out and doing a lot of shooting. Cheney said that they didn’t really have a solid “go to” alternative to spark the team on off nights like at Chisholm.
None of the players participate on a spring club team, but there will be summer league ball with some of the area schools. And Cheney said she and her assistants were going to meet Tuesday to start mapping out other possibilities, including exploring the idea of a home-grown “camp” that would have position specialists come in to work with the Grizzlies.
While this team has been able to embrace the youth and inexperience mantra in a season heavy on learning, that won’t be the case next year, Cheney said.
“That was OK this year, to be the young team,” she said. “Next year we’ll have some seniors and juniors and sophomores. Our expectations will be a little bit different for ourselves.”