Frosh/JV basketball: Guards led the way for Eskymos

ESCANABA – Guards were plentiful for the Escanaba freshman girls in an 8-6 basketball season, with as many as seven available for rotation during the 2012-13 campaign.

Leading that deep pool was J.J. Laviolette.

“J.J. was probably our top guard,” said coach Dena Fedell. “She can dribble through anything and has no problem dribbling with either hand. She was also quick on her feet and wasn’t afraid of anybody. This is by far the most talented group of ballhandlers I’ve had in my nine years of coaching.”

Joining in that rotation were MacKenzie Leisner, Katie Ziebell, Carley Cook, Emily LaFave and Kelsey Forvilly.

“MacKenzie helped take the ball down the court and was willing to play any position,” said Fedell. “Katie can break presses and is a smart passer. Carley is very quick on her feet and created lot of turnovers for our team. She also started following her shots more as the season progressed. Emily was our best outside shooter and could handle the ball. Kelsey was also a good shooter and could always count on her for points. She got more playing time toward the end of the year because of her accountability.”

Emily Hossele also played guard on occasion, but was used mainly at forward.

“Emily is a great rebounder,” said Fedell. “She would fight for every rebound. She also created some turnovers because of her quickness.”

Also helping Esky’s inside game were 5-foot-9 forward/center Brittany Douglas, 5-9 forward Kayla VanPortfliet, 6-0 center MacKenzie Hayes, forward Ashley Elie and 5-10 forward-center Gabrielle Wyckoff, who played for the first time since fifth grade.

“By the end of the year, you would have never believed Gabrielle only played up to fifth grade,” said Fedell. “She really found her mark at what she’s good at. Brittany was our strongest rebounder. Her comfort zone was under the basket and she got a lot of putbacks. Kayla is a smart player down low. She’s also a good rebounder and communicator. MacKenzie got stronger as the year went on. Ashley was a good rebounder, too. She also got into the passing lanes and created some turnovers.”

A highlight to Esky’s season was a 45-36 victory over Kingsford at home on Feb. 5. Esky had dropped a 43-42 overtime decision to the Flivvers on the road Jan. 10.

“It was a tough game up there,” said Fedell. “The game got real rough. A few of our girls got hurt and a couple more fouled out. We had a heart-to-heart talk after that game and practiced on the things we needed to. At home, we were able to set up a diamond-breaker, which helped us get the ball up the court. That was an eye-opener. That’s where their hard work and determination paid off.”

Esky’s toughest game took place at home Jan. 25 when it dropped a 48-35 decision to Iron Mountain.

“Iron Mountain was a very good team and we were down by 23 points at halftime,” said Fedell. “We told the girls everybody needed to step up and they didn’t give up. Those were great strides.”

Things didn’t go quite as well as anticipated for the jayvees, who finished 7-13.

“It was kind of an up and down season,” said coach Kurt Schwalbach. “We felt we were pretty strong. But the GNC was real tough this year, which made our girls better. We were very nervous in the beginning of the year, especially at Calumet (in a 31-21 season-opening loss). Although, we got better with that through the season. We would play good for 2-3 quarters, then sometimes couldn’t finish games. Turnovers also hurt us badly.”

Schwalbach says the Eskymos played one of their best games on Feb. 1 in a 50-40 triumph over Houghton.

“We played our best defense in that game,” he added. “This was a very long season for the girls. We had a lot of sickness which made it hard to maintain team chemistry. We shot 58 percent from the free throw line. I was very happy about that. There were also a lot of other things we did well.”

Sophomores Mary Houle, who averaged 8.7 points, and Brittany Levesque shared the point guard duties. Joining them in the backcourt were freshman Callie Heller and sophomore Olivia Berquist.

“Brittany probably got a little more playing time, although both were good ballhandlers,” said Schwalbach. “Olivia made some nice passes and Callie did a great job for us.”

Sharing duties at center were 5-10 sophomore Tara Strahl and 6-0 freshman Haily Waters.

Providing inside help were sophomore forward-guard Paxton Fedell and forwards Jessica Gill and Aimee Giese.

“Olivia and Haily did an excellent job for us,” said Schwalbach. “Jessica is very fast and is a good ballhandler. Paxton shot well from the free throw line and AImee has a great attitude. We let Aimee start against DeTour (in a 36-19 victory) and it made her day. It was great to have her on the team.”