Summer on the run: Austin girls have made big strides this offseason

Published 9:47 pm Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Austin girls basketball team took Section 1AAA by storm this past winter as the Packers charged to their first state tournament since 2008, but the party came to a screeching halt when Austin was outrun in a 72-40 loss to Robbinsdale-Cooper in the Minnesota Class AAA State Tournament quarterfinals.

The Packers have used this summer to make sure that doesn’t happen to them again. Austin, which will return most of its lineup from last year, took fourth place in the Pacesetter Sweet 16 this past weekend as it has played a schedule of tough teams throughout the summer. The Pacesetter tournament features the best girls basketball teams in the state.

“Last year we weren’t ready for that style that Robbinsdale-Cooper had, but if we can bottle up the experience we’ve picked up this summer, maybe that style won’t be such a surprise,” Austin head girls basketball coach Eric Zoske said. “These girls have dedicated themselves to basketball.”

Colie Justice of Austin fights for a loose ball against Lakeville North in the Pacesetter Sweet 16 Tournament recently. Photo provided

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Austin beat Proctor, which went to the Class AA state tournament last year, 85-55 and it topped Stillwater, which was runner up in Class AAAA last year, 74-69 in the Pacesetter tournament, but it lost to Hopkins 85-46 in the semifinals and lost to Lakeville North 70-56 in the third place game.

Of all the teams Austin faced this summer, Hopkins proved to be the most intimidating. The Royals run much of their offense through Paige Bueckers, a University of Connecticut commit, who is ranked No. 1 in the class of 2020 and she was a lot for the Packers to deal with.

Austin’s Kyra Walters said that playing Hopkins was overwhelming, but the Packers have grown a lot this summer.

“For most of the games, we were very calm, but Hopkins is top five in the nation and Paige is top one in the nation. We were very nervous about playing them,” Walters said. “Our biggest thing is (our lack of height), but we never let that bother us. We played hard and we had some good results this summer. I think we figured out the things we need to do to be successful this winter. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Austin finished in fourth place in the tournament. Photos provided

Zoske said the team had a strong turnout for most of the voluntary summer activities and some of the Packers also played an AAU schedule — which meant they played approximately 60 games over the summer.

“Nothing is required. I’m just truly blessed with a bunch of girls who want to be there when I open up the weight room or the gym,” Zoske said.

Walters played her AAU season with Air Minnesota, where she played in various tournaments around the Midwest.

“It’s all for the love of the game,” Walters said. “My AAU team was really fun and even though they were all from Rochester Mayo, they included me and we had a blast.”

Not only have the Packers stayed active in the gym and the weight room this summer, they’ve also been involved in fundraisers for the program. The team held a fund raiser where each player had to make 100 free throws for $100 and it was able to accomplish that feat in just 43 minutes. The team will also hold a car wash fundraiser at NAPA Auto Parts from 10 a.m. on Aug. 24.

Zoske said he’s learned to expect hard work from his team.

“I love this team. They’re really a no-nonsense team. They’re there to get better and they’re upset after we lose,” he said. “They have questions for me and they’ve given me some ideas throughout the summer that we’re able to carry over into the season. I’m excited to see what it all turns out to be when the season gets going.”