No matter the number of wins or points scored, each basketball season is successful for Kris Gustin, head of the Mayer Lutheran girls’ team. He said the year is always a success because the team gets to grow, spend time together, and simply play basketball.
“Each season takes on kind of a different shape of its own,” he said.
This year’s Crusaders finished the season with a 15-11 record, after losing their first playoff game to Watertown-Mayer. Mayer Lutheran finished third in the Minnesota River Conference with a 10-4 record, behind Jordan and Norwood Young America’s 13-1 tie for first.
Gustin said he was pleased with the team’s finish in the MRC.
“All in all, where we stand is certainly nothing to be ashamed of,” he said.
The Crusaders struggled to adjust and acclimate as a team early in the season, and didn’t seem to “click” headed into the winter break, holding a 5-7 record.
“We kind of fought through that and things kind of turned around after Christmas break,” Gustin said.
Coming out of break, the Crusaders hit a six game win streak between Dec. 29 and Jan. 18, defeating conference teams Tri-City United, LeSueur-Henderson, Watertown-Mayer, and Sibley East, along with Stewartville and Breck.
As the season continued, the Crusaders fixed issues within the team they had experienced early in the season, including team chemistry, free throw shooting, and overall shooting. By season’s end, the team had dramatically improved both its free throw and overall shooting percentages and was working as a unit.
“We certainly got better as the season progressed, and that’s always one of your goals as a coach,” Gustin said.
The team’s annual Crusaders for a Cure event is always a highlight of the season, as it was again this year, giving the team an opportunity to serve the community, Gustin said.
The Crusaders lose five seniors this season in Christina Bruggman, Ashlyn Hucky, Emily Johnson, Holly Johnson, and Nico Schmidt. All five will be missed for the leadership, experience, and maturity they have contributed. Hucky and Schmidt contributed a lot of minutes, while Bruggman was a force in the front court. Emily and Holly Johnson both gave critical minutes, both off the bench and as starters, according to Gustin.
“We’re losing five girls who have contributed for four years, so it’s always bittersweet,” he said.
In the seniors’ wake, a young group of athletes is poised to take over the team, including juniors Krianna Boelke, Grace Gassen, Lauren Manteuffel, Josie Peters, and Shelby Sicheneder, and sophomores Cailey Benkowski, Maria Kuntz, and Brenna Larsen.
Gustin said all returning members will take on expanded roles as they have added experience.
Five Crusaders broke the 100-point scoring mark this season, including Manteuffel (319), Schmidt (271), Hucky (206), Bruggman (164), and Peters (112).
Top rebounders were Schmidt (238), Manteuffel (204), and Bruggman (123). Hucky (53), Schmidt (50), and Manteuffel (46) led in steals. Top blockers were Manteuffel (44), Hucky (21), Peters (19), and Schmidt (18).
All-Conference awards went to Hucky, Manteuffel, and Schmidt, while Bruggman received All-Conference Honorable Mention. Hucky, Manteuffel, and Schmidt were also named to the All-Section team.