Answering the call: Lakers aim find roles with young core in new-look Section 8-3A
The Lakers girls basketball team thinks they can compete for a Section 8A title this season. To do that, newcomers will have to fill big shoes as Detroit Lakes brings a young squad to the varsity level.
The Detroit Lakes girls basketball team played St. Cloud Tech and Bemidji in its two Section 8-3A playoff games last season. This time around, there is new blood in the way of the Lakers' ultimate goal.
In part of the Minnesota State High School League's mass section realignment across most sports for the 2021-22 season, the 8-3A girls basketball landscape flipped on its head. The Lakers are part of a six-team section that includes Rocori, Little Falls, Sauk Rapids-Rice, Willmar and Alexandria, the defending champions.
"Our section shakeup was interesting this year," head coach Rachel Johnson said. "I'm familiar with a lot of the teams, and I think we're up near the top with other schools graduating seniors like we did. We are all in a similar situation right now. I'm excited to see how our core group of girls handles those new challenges."
After finishing 12-7 in last year's pandemic-stricken season, the Lakers bring plenty of new faces into the fold. Johnson, the second-year coach, is impressed to see how fast some of her girls are picking up where last year left off.
"We have a very young crew, but they're not necessarily inexperienced," Johnson said. "Even the ones that haven't had quality varsity time yet, they've put in a lot of good work over the summer. I'm confident that when they get used to the change in speed, they'll be good to go. The culture and how everyone is really great. It's been a good first week of practice, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it translates onto the court."
One of the Lakers' go-to girls will be junior captain Jacee Hauser. She's diving headfirst into a leadership position on a youthful team.
"I do feel some pressure," Hauser said on assuming leadership," I didn't have to be a leader last year because we had some good seniors. This year, I had to step up a lot more than I expected. But I'm ready for it now."
Detroit Lakes suffered a considerable loss when senior Alex Bettcher tore her ACL last year. While hopeful she'll be able to make it back for the end of this season, Bettcher is finding new ways to make an impact away from the hardwood.
"It depends on who you ask," Bettcher said on if she will make it back to the court at any point this season. "I'm hoping for February. I'm hopeful I'll be able to play. I like being around the girls, and the environment is always positive, but it's definitely hard not being able to play."
"It's a little different for me because I'm not out there with them," Bettcher said. "But it's fun to be with them on the sidelines, cheering them on and leading by example. I think that has a big impact on the girls."
Despite being in a different role, Johnson felt naming Bettcher a captain was a no-brainer considering how much young players look up to her.
"Alex and I have had a conversation, and she's just as much a part of this team if she's on the bench or on the court," Johnson said. "I looked at it from the perspective that she becomes a coach now, too, with the hopes that we'll get her back on the court. We've been working together on how she should look at her role."
"She brings the most energy out of anyone on this team," Hauser said of Bettcher. "When she's not there, you can tell someone is missing. I'm really glad she can at least be with us on the bench."
The Lakers are looking forward to seeing more faces in the stands. Without any capacity restrictions, Hauser hopes to feel the energy she helped provide during the fall season.
"We got to be a part of the volleyball student section, and it got so big," Hauser said. "It's amazing how everyone wanted to be there and cheer them on. I'm excited to see how big of a student section we can get. I think it has a really big impact on the game. When you have so many fans here cheering you on, it lifts our mood and makes the atmosphere way different on the floor. It's way different when it's just your parents cheering for you. We had to bring our own energy. And we always do, but with the students, it'll be even better."
Alexandria won the last two section championships before being ousted by Becker first round of the Class 3A state tournament both times. The Lakers feel like they're in an opportune spot to win their first section championship since 2009.
"I've been really excited to hear a lot of murmurings about going to state because the girls have high goals and aspirations," Johnson said. "That's what I and the rest of the coaching staff hold them to. We have high expectations. We're hoping to make it to that section final game and come out on top."