Girls Basketball: Lakers cruise in section title rematch over Willmar

The Detroit Lakes girls basketball team went on a 17-0 run to end the first half in a 54-26 win over Willmar. The Lakers extended their winning streak to seven games.

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Detroit Lakes' Abby Larson and Elle Lunde fight for the rebound on Jan 6, 2023 in the Lakers 54-28 win over Willmar at Lakershirts Fieldhouse
Nick Leonardelli

DETROIT LAKES- The Detroit Lakes girls basketball team extended their winning streak in a rematch of last year's Section 8-3A championship against Willmar Friday night.

A late first-half run by the Lakers helped to lift them over the Cardinals 54-28.

"I was really happy to see the girls come out of winter break ready to go," Detroit Lakes head coach Rachel Johnson said. "We had a snow-delayed game from Tuesday, so we didn't get going as early in the week as we usually do, and it showed."

Johnson's team took a while to shake the rust off, but once they found their groove, Willmar couldn't keep up.

"The first nine minutes, we were pretty slow," Johnson said. "The second part of the first half went really well. A lot of girls stepped up and did the right things defensively and made really good adjustments. Offensively we clicked and started finishing our shots. It took a little bit for them to warm up but they figured it out and kept it up throughout the rest of the game."


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Detroit Lakes' Elle Okeson goes up for a tough layup on Jan. 6, 2023 in the Lakers 54-28 win over Willmar at Lakershirts Fieldhouse
Nick Leonarelli / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Willmar's Brielle Ogdahl made a tough two to put the Cardinals up 16-14 with roughly four minutes left in the first half. However, that would be the last time they would score before the intermission.

A steal and a layup by Detroit Lakes' Abby Larson sparked a 17-0 run to end the half. Once Larson saw the Lakers get the ball rolling, she knew her team would see the results they'd been seeing all season long.

"We knew that Willmar would be down this year and not as good as they were last year," Larson said. "It took us a little while to get going, and eventually, we clicked into what our team normally does."

Johnson saw the late first-half run as the spark her team needed to get the job done and was happy to see her experienced players set the tone.

"We always talk about stringing three minutes together and stringing those together into a whole game," she said. "To miss that first three sets of three minutes is rough, but having a spark like that and getting Grace Gunderson to the rim for a quick bucket really settles everyone down and gets us back into the swing of what we want to be doing. When we're having our experienced players create a spark like that, it's great to see."

It wasn't just the starters who helped to get the boat rowing in the Lakers' first game back from Winter break. Sophomore Karlee Mace was the spark off the bench Detroit Lakes needed.

"Whenever Karlee comes off the bench, she is an offensive spark plug," Johnson said. "She is going to make something happen – hit a three or get to the rim some way somehow. Then to see her go back on defense and get some really solid stops has been great to see her improve upon this year."

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Karlee Mace gets ready to shoot a free throw on Jan. 6, 2023 in the Lakers 54-28 win over Willmar at Lakershirts Fieldhouse.
Nick Leonardelli / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Larson also expressed her praise for Mace.


"It is always exciting when bench players come off and catch fire," she said. "It makes everyone else hyped on and off the court."

The Lakers started and finished in midseason form defensively. They surrendered 16 first-half points and 12 second-half points.

"Defensively, the girls executed the way they needed to execute," Johnson said. "A lot of times we talk about our two side defenders not giving up the baseline, which they did a couple of times, but they switched their hips around to make sure we pushed it to our help, which is on the inside. Our middle girls (Ellie Lunde and Elle Bettcher) always do a great job of running the show down there and making sure our top two girls have high post cover and talk about cutters. Everyone took care of their job tonight in order to have a great defensive night. Only 12 points in the second half. So, when something like that happens, you can't be upset at all."

Last year's section championship game was on everyone's mind before the game. Johnson addressed her team about how Willmar would come out from the start seeking revenge even though they haven't had the best start to this season.

"They lost all five starters and a couple of girls off the bench from last year," Johnson said. "We knew this was going to be a younger team, but a lot of those younger girls got quality playing minutes last year too. We talked about it in the locker room before we came out here that they were going to be ready to compete. They were coming after us being the section winner and being the team that we beat last year to go to state. That puts targets on our backs."

"The girls really thrive in that position," Johnson said of the added pressure of being the reigning section champions. "It has been a really interesting turn to see them go from underdogs to the favorites a lot of nights. They have adjusted to that really well and stepped up to that call. It was really fun to be ready to come out against that. Willmar gave us their best shot, but I think our teamwork prevailed in the end."

Larson is thrilled with the Lakers' seven-game winning streak.

"I am very excited because last year we were the complete opposite," she said. "I'm very excited to be 7-1 to start this year …I think our chemistry is good because we played all year last year with our only senior on the bench. Being able to play our game like we always do has been a huge help."


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Detroit Lakes' Elle Bettcher drives to the rim on Jan. 6, 2023 in the Lakers 54-28 win over Willmar at Lakershirts Fieldhouse.
Nick Leonardelli / Detroit Lakes Tribune

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