At the midpoint of December it is certainly too early to begin thinking about the postseason, but the last time a girls’ basketball team from Central started a season 6-0, that team went to the state tournament.
After conference wins over Mayer Lutheran and LeSueur-Henderson last week, this year’s Raiders have kept pace with the 2006-07 team that started 8-0 and finished the year at the Target Center.
With a number of skilled, experienced individuals returning this season and the development of younger post players who have helped shore up a traditional weakness in rebounding, head coach Gary Lembcke said the perfect start through the first few weeks hasn’t necessarily been a surprise.
“As a coach you go into a season with expectations. We knew we had to play up-tempo and we’ve done a very good job with that,” he said. “Our defense has improved, and that I think is the biggest reason we’re 6-0, along with rebounding. Those are the two areas we needed to get better at. The players have worked really hard to control the defensive end of the court. We’re not giving up easy baskets, which is something we did a lot of last year. It’s not a shock to me because we have gotten better in those two areas, and we have some explosiveness to our offense.”
The Raiders will face their biggest challenges of the season this week, with a Tuesday game against state-ranked Jordan — led by the top player in the conference in Madison Dean — and a Thursday matchup against a very tall Delano team that features players over 6 feet tall at each of the forward positions.
“That will be quite a challenge,” said Lembcke.
Central 63, LHS 56
The Raiders cleared a mental hurdle with their 63-56 road victory over Mayer Lutheran on Tuesday, Dec. 11. According to Lembcke, no players on the current Central roster had ever beaten Mayer Lutheran at the varsity level.
“Mayer has kind of had our number the last few years where we have not been able to beat them, so hopefully this gives our players confidence,” he said. “I know they were nervous going into that game, so it was a big win in that regard.”
A pair of strong defensive stretches helped the Raiders to the victory, including a solid sequence to end the first half and a nine-minute shutout streak to open the second half. The Crusaders came alive in the last nine minutes of the game to score 30 points and tighten the score, but the Raiders were able to weather the storm and salvage the victory.
“I was very pleased with the way we played. Going into the game we knew Mayer had a lot of height, and one of their strengths has always been crashing the boards,” said Lembcke. “I thought we did a nice job of battling for rebounds. I thought our frontline people really came to play with them.”
It was a physical battle and both Sami Jo Brinkmann and Nicole Miller fouled out, but Brooke Willemsen and Morgan Karnes filled those gaps and kept battling.
Willemsen led the team in rebounds for the game with 12, while Karnes and Brinkmann each had seven rebounds and Miller grabbed five.
Kaylie Brazil led the team in scoring with 26 points, Willemsen added 11, Lexi Erpenbach had eight and Miller scored seven.
Brazil also had six steals and two blocked shots, Brinkmann had three seals and four blocked shots, and Erpenbach added eight assists.
Central 54, LSH 19
The second game of the week was not much of a contest, as the Raiders established a 31-7 lead after the first half and cruised to the finish line at home on Thursday, Dec. 13.
“We jumped out to a 10-point lead within the first few minutes and we had control the whole way,” said Lembcke. “LeSueur is a program in transition. They have their third coach in three years. They haven’t had a lot of summer programs because their coaches haven’t been hired until fall, which is kind of unfortunate because they’ve been a strong program in the past. So they were very inexperienced varsity players and we took advantage of that and controlled the game.”
With the game well in hand, the Raiders worked through their bench and 11 difference players scored during the evening. Willemsen led the team with 12 points and 13 rebounds, and also had five assists and five steals.
Erpenbach scored nine points with seven assists, Brinkmann had eight points and 10 rebounds, and Miller scored six points with five rebounds.