When you lose the state’s best player to graduation, it leaves some awfully big shoes to fill. But that’s what the Watertown-Mayer girls’ basketball team will be trying to do this season after the departure of last year’s Miss Basketball winner in Minnesota, Marissa Janning.
Janning, who finished as the school’s all-time leader in just about every category, including points with 3,587 — the fourth highest total in state history — will leave a big void after averaging 30.2 points and 10.3 rebounds last year. But head coach John Rosholt insists his team is going into this season just like any other.
This is a new team, and it’s a new season,” Rosholt said. “We’ll do what we always do. We’ll start at square one and build on it every day. That’s the goal, is to build and get better every day so that at the end of the year, we’re competing at a high level. That’s no different thatn when we had Marissa or Amy Stifter or any number of quality players in the past.”
Janning, however, isn’t the only key player from last year’s highly-ranked squad. Also gone is Ashley Anfinson, a stellar defensive guard who earned honorable-mention all-conference honors last year. Shelby Norman was a key forward for the Royals last year as well, and Emily Tschida played a key role off the bench.
In all, the Royals lost a key group of six seniors from a team that was ranked in the top-five in the state for much of the year. However, the Royals do return a number of talented players as well, led by all-conference forward Kate Theisen and point guard Hannah Johnson, both of whom are seniors this year.
Theisen averaged 13.2 points per game and 5.9 rebounds last season. She shot 55 pecent from the field, including 41 percent from 3-point range, and will likely be looked upon as the team’s offensive leader this season.
Johnson also enjoyed a nice season last year, averaging 4.8 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. With Janning gone this year, her role in the offense figures to be much expanded.
“I always depend a lot on my seniors, and those are two of my seniors,” Rosholt said. “I’ll expect a lot of leadership from them both on and off the court. They’re both two different players, so the expectations will be a little different for each one, but a lot of leadership responsibility will fall on them.”
Also returning this year is senior Courtney Fisher, who appeared in 20 games last season and averaged 2.6 points. Christine Kreatz, who played in eight games last year, is the team’s other senior this season.
Lexy Heldt also returns for the Royals this season after playing in 25 games last year. She averaged 1.7 points and 2 rebounds per game, and will be a key player in the post for a Royals team that once again will be a bit on the small side.
“We definitely loast a real good core of seniors last year, there’s no doubt about that,” Rosholt said. “We’ll be turning to a new group of seniors. Courtney Fisher and Christine Kreatz will be stepping up as far as seniors go, and we have some juniors that have played in the past, and hopefully they’re ready to step it up a notch. Lexy Heldt, Chelsea Wandersee, Liz Miller and Kira Hazelbacker are juniors I’ll be expecting to step up, and Ashley Wiswell, a sophomore, is someone I think will get some playing time, too.”
Rosholt said his team’s height will once again be one of its biggest challenges. Last year, Janning, the team’s point guard, led the team in rebounding, but this year, it will have to be more of a team effort.
“We don’t have a very tall team, so our length will be a problem,” Rosholt said. “The biggest question is how well we control the board, how well we block out, and how disciplined we are in that area. That’s a big question for us.”
Scoring will also be an obvious concern for the Royals, who last year got about 45 percent of their 67 points per game from one player. Rosholt noted that defense will become even more important without Janning in the lineup.
“We lost a lot of points through Ashley and Marissa, so that’s going to be a question mark for us. Where is the scoring going to come from. … Obviously we’re going to have to defend, because we’re not going to score 67 points per game like we did last year.”
Because of the team’s relative lack of size, Rosholt said he expects his team to try to push the tempo when it can again this year, much as it has done in recent years. But he also stressed that the team would need to be solid in its halfcourt offense as well this season.
“If we get an opportunity to push the ball, we’re going to push the ball,” Rosholt said. “We’re going to take advantage of any primary breaks we have. … In order to play deep into the playoffs, we’ll have to have a strong halfcourt offense too. That’s something we’ll have to make sure of this year, is discipline in the halfcourt offense.”
The Royals got their first test of the new season on Tuesday, when they traveled to take on Litchfield in a non-conference game. The Royals will open up the home portion of their schedule on Friday, when they welcome Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted to Watertown-Mayer for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff. The Royals will also be back in action on Tuesday, Dec. 4, at Delano, at 7:30 p.m.