Still down for the fight; Lyle-Pacelli girls basketball team is unfazed by adversity

Published 8:20 pm Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Few high school girls basketball teams have faced as much heartbreak as Lyle-Pacelli over the last two seasons, but the Athletics aren’t about to feel sorry for themselves.

Last season the Athletics saw a 10-point lead against eventual state champ Goodhue disappear in the last few minutes of the Section 1A West title game and in 2015 eventual state champ Ada-Borup came from behind to beat LP in the state semifinals.

“I think anytime you have a heartbreaking loss, it sticks with you,” LP head coach Justin Morris said. “For us it’s kind of a sensitive subject just because we felt like we had out played [Goodhue] for the majority of the basketball game. But we didn’t make enough plays and we didn’t finish the deal. Goodhue went on to win the state championship in resounding fashion and we felt like it could’ve been us.”

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Besides facing a tough ending to the season last year, the Athletics also graduated two of their top play-makers from over the past four seasons as Courtney Walter, a 1,000-point career scorer, and Sarah Holtz, a 2,000-point career scorer and 1,000-career rebounder, have moved on. The No. 10 ranked Athletics (8-2 overall) have been able to find new players to step up this season, and LP is playing with a chip on its shoulder.

Lyle-Pacelli’s Abigail Bollingberg brings the ball up court looking for an outlet during the first half against Hope Lutheran at Pacelli last December. Herald file photos

Lyle-Pacelli’s Abigail Bollingberg brings the ball up court looking for an outlet during the first half against Hope Lutheran at Pacelli last December. Herald file photos

“We have a lot of girls that can shoot the ball and handle the ball,” LP senior forward Bethany Strouf said.

The Athletics played with No. 3 ranked Goodhue down the stretch but lost 54-49 in overtime on the road Saturday. LP junior guard Brooke Walter said the team used last year’s loss to the Wildcats as a spark to work harder in the offseason and now they’re looking to continue that hard work in case they see Goodhue again in the postseason.

“I think that [loss last year] was our motivator,” Brooke said. “We want to prove that we have worked hard to get to this spot and we’re trying to win for our seniors from last year and make up for that loss. We know [Goodhue] and they know us. The time to win is in March.”

Lyle-Pacelli guard Brooke Walter works against Hope Lutheran.

Lyle-Pacelli guard Brooke Walter works against Hope Lutheran.

LP has much more depth on this year’s team as some younger players are starting to grow into bigger roles. Junior center Kristi Fett has played a big role in the paint for LP and she gets a boost from working with the youth on LP’s team every day.

“The young kids have stepped up and pushed us really hard in practice,” Fett said. “Even on days when we feel like we don’t want to go our hardest, they push us so we have to work our hardest.”

Morris wants his team to be tournament ready in March this season and sometimes that is tough for his team to do with an SEC schedule, where the Athletics have won 70 straight conference games.

Since the conference added more non-conference games to the schedule this season, Morris made sure to add some tough teams on the docket.

LP has already played two top-10 teams this season and it has tough games remaining against Plainview-Elgin-Millville, the No. 2 team in Class AA, Maranatha Christian Academy, the No. 2 team in Class A, and Hayfield, the No. 8 team in Class AA.

Morris said he started looking to add tough teams to the schedule after LP went undefeated in the 2014 regular season before losing in the Section 1A West semifinals.

“We’ll probably have the least attractive record that we’ve had in my five years here, but I think it’ll be the most competitive season we’ve had. I think we have a really great opportunity and this is probably as hungry a group as we’ve had here,” Morris said. “We think we can play with anybody and we’re not scared of anybody. We also know it’s going to be a tremendous challenge to get to where we want to go.”

LP will play at Grand Meadow (7-4 overall) 7:15 p.m. Thursday. The Superlarks have won seven straight games.