Lady Irish look for third consecutive championship title
By Shae Dolisi
After defending the girls’ basketball state championship title back-to-back, it will be challenging to meet the high expectations and look for the three-peat this season. Last season the team finished with a 26-3 record, losing only to Sterling, Bishop LeBlond and Nebraska City Lourdes.
The Lady Irish fought hard to beat Osceola at home for the district final game to go to state. Wins against Leyton and Humphrey St. Francis in the first two rounds brought them to the state championship where they faced a familiar foe in the Wynot Blue Devils. It was a challenging game, and the Irish faced extra adversity when senior DeLanie Witt suffered a knee injury during the third quarter, but they prevailed in the end with a 33-32 victory.
“Our expectations are always the same, we focus on the process of getting better every practice and being a complete team by February and March,” head coach Luke Santo said. “We work to get our girls to understand how important practice is to our individual and team growth.” The team lost four seniors who were key components, leaving the team with only one returning starter, junior Jentry Lechtenberg.
This season’s lone senior, Makinley Scholl, suffered an injury during the first game last year, putting her on the sidelines for most of the season. She returned for the last couple of minutes in the game against Johnson-Brock and played for the last nine games of the season. Scholl played a very important role in the championship game last season as the first sub off the bench. “This season I’m looking forward to playing one last year with all my friends and having a successful season,” Scholl said. “We lost a lot of key players last year, but I feel like we have potential to succeed again.”
Lechtenberg stepped up to fill Scholl’s position as a starting guard last season after her injury, and the team will depend on her leadership and experience again this year. “My hope for this season is to be consistent, not only for myself but also with the team as a whole,” Lechtenberg said. “To be a successful team again this year means learning to work together, and I think focusing on consistency will help with that.”
The lineup for this year consists of four freshmen, four sophomores, two juniors and one senior, with a total of 11 players on the team. Junior Sadie Tisdel, sophomores Daycee Witt and Avery Santo and freshman Hallie Jones will have to step up to fill in new spots on the team. These players will mostly have roles as guards with Jones serving as post. “We have a lot of guards this year; our ball handling should be solid, and we should be able to spread teams out and be hard to guard,” Santo said. “We don’t have the experienced, traditional posts that we’ve had in the past, and we’re going to have to be consistent shooters as the season progresses.”
The final goal for the Irish is to make it to the state tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena, but it will take hard work and dedication to make it there. “We graduated four seniors from last year’s championship,” Santo said. “We really only return two girls that have a lot of varsity experience, so we need to develop our girls as soon as possible and give them that game experience so they know what it takes at the varsity level.”