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Girls basketball: Detroit Lakes to lean on experience and depth as defending Section 8-3A champions

After its Cinderella run a year ago, the Detroit Lakes girls basketball team is hoping for similar success in the 2022-23 season. The Lakers will hope to lean on their experience and depth as they navigate a competitive schedule as the reigning Section 8-3A champions.

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Detroit Lakes' Abby Larson shoots a three-pointer at a practice on Nov. 18, 2022 at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse at Detroit Lakes High School.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune
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DETROIT LAKES – Through one week of practice a year ago, the Detroit Lakes girls basketball team was staring at an uphill battle.

With their presumed best player and only senior sidelined for the season with an ACL injury, the Lakers had their work cut out for them if they wanted to make it out of a competitive Section 8-3A field.

Fast forward to the middle of January, and the hill looked even steeper. Detroit Lakes was sitting at 1-7 with seven consecutive losses. From there, the 2021-22 season turned for the better.

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Detroit Lakes' Jacee hauser makes a pass at a practice on Nov. 18, 2022 at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse at Detroit Lakes High School.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

The Lakers finished the regular season, winning 10 of its last 15 games to earn the third seed in the Section 8-3A field. After knocking off sixth-seeded Little Falls in the section quarterfinals, Detroit Lakes went on Cinderella run to the Class 3A state basketball tournament, beating Alexandria and top-ranked Willmar on the way.

Detroit Lakes head coach Rachel Johnson hopes they can pick up where they left off.

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"Experience is a thing we have," she said. "We have a handful of juniors and seniors, as well as some sophomores mixed in there as well. I think the sophomores do a good job of keeping a level head while the older girls hold each other accountable. At this point, we are at where we are at physically. The next step is having a strong mental capacity to execute our game plan to leave the gym with a win."

The Lakers will have something they didn't have last year: seniors on the court.

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Detroit Lakes' Rachel Kasowski looks to make a pass at a practice on Nov. 18, 2022 at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse at Detroit Lakes High School.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"Jacee (Hauser), Abby (Larson) and Ellie (Lunde) are all going to be those senior leaders on the floor," Johnson said. "They will play very valuable mutes. Maddy Bellanger is a senior we haven't seen a lot of minutes from but is valuable to us when we play our zone. She's really good at anticipating at the top of it. We also have our third captain, along with Jacee and Abby, in Rachel Kasowski. She's the epitome of what you want in a captain. She understands her role. She'll see a few minutes here and there, but she jumps in every day in the summer, in practice and is an emotional leader. She sets a good example for our girls. Even though she won't see the floor that much, she's such a huge part of what we do."

The meat of the Lakers comes in an impactful junior class. The sophomores of last year were crucial in all facets of Detroit Lakes' run to the state tournament.

"Elle Bettcher, Helena Daggett, Grace Gunderson and Ella Okeson are all back," Johnson said. "Ella is back and healthy after getting shoulder surgery. All of those girls were a big part of what we did last year."

Sometimes it's challenging for new faces to break through on teams with this much experience. While the opportunities may be limited, more significant minutes are up for grabs as the Lakers hope to establish depth.

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Detroit Lakes' Helena Daggett shoots a three-pointer at a practice on Nov. 18, 2022 at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse at Detroit Lakes High School.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"Karlee Mace, or 'Big Red' as we like to call her, is back. She's going to start getting more playing time on the varsity floor," Johnson said. "Brooklyn Markuson is a junior this year that will get more varsity minutes this year. She fits our lineup really well. She's nice and long, and she's got a nice shot."

The Lakers will be tested before Christmas break. They open the season at home against Perham on Dec. 1 before taking on Little Falls, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, Bemidji, Alexandria, Moorhead and Sauk-Rapids Rice before the Fergus Falls holiday tournament.

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"Our girls had great attendance this summer, which makes getting us back into the swing of things really easy," Johnson said. "We're able to put more challenging stuff into our practices and really fine-tune what we're working on. This is the first time in three years we've gotten to do that. I'm excited to see how much of a difference that makes in December."

"We want to be 8-10 girls deep," Johnson said. "We want to get a lot of variations of girls on the floor so we can figure out what works best and what rotations are going to be good for us. As we move through December, those wins in January and February become crucial to get those QRF points, so we're seeded where we want to be."

As the defending section champions, Johnson expects to get every team's best shot. However, she's excited for the opportunity to prove that last year's success wasn't a fluke.

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Detroit Lakes' Grace Gunderson makes a pass during a scrimmage at a practice on Nov. 18, 2022 at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse at Detroit Lakes High School.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"We're still not getting talked about, which is fine. We want to be a team that other teams talk about and worry about when they see us on the schedule," Johnson said. "Recognizing that we had success last year is great, but there is a target on our back. Every day we show up, we have to get better and better. We have to do the little things. We need to be prepared mentally for tough situations."

DETROIT LAKES GIRLS BASKETBALL SCHEDULE

Dec. 1 vs. Perham, 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 2 at Little Falls, 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 6 at DGF, 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 13 at Bemidji, 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 16 vs. Alexandria. 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 20 at Moorhead, 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 22 vs. Sauk Rapids-Rice, 1:30 p.m.

Dec. 28-29 at Fergus Falls Tournament

Jan. 3 at St. Cloud, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 6 vs. Willmar, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 13 vs. Pequot Lakes, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 14 at Brainerd, 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 17 at Alexandria, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 19 at Staples-Motley, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 31 vs. Rocori, 1:30 p.m.

Jan. 26 vs. Aitkin, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 27 at Park Rapids, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 31 vs. Bemidji, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 2 vs. Crosby-Ironton, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 3 vs. Fergus Falls, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 7 at Pequot Lakes, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 10 vs. Staples-Motley, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 16 at Aitkin, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 21 vs. Park Rapids, 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 23 at Crosby-Ironton, 7:15 p.m.

Jared Rubado is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus. He moved to the area in September of 2021 after covering sports for the Alexandria Echo Press for nearly three years. Jared graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with degrees in journalism and sports managment.
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