by ADAM GRUENEWALD
Despite losing two of the top scorers in program history, the Central girls’ basketball squad is ready for a successful 2013-14 campaign.
Lexi Erpenbach, the team’s leading scorer, and Brooke Willemsen, the team’s leading rebounder, highlight the graduating class from last year’s team that went 23-6. They also tied Jordan at 13-1 in the Minnesota River Conference.
Head coach Gary Lembcke, entering his 30th season head coaching overall, most of which with longtime assistant Rick Willhite, is optimistic.
“I think we’re going to have a very good basketball team,” said Lembcke, a retired elementary teacher at Central. “We got a group of girls that work extremely well together. We may not have the explosiveness that we had last year, but I do like how well they work together and play together.”
The Raiders return junior guard Kaylie Brazil, who made the all-conference team last season. Brazil was second in scoring for the Raiders with 421 points last year, to go along with a team-leading 133 assists and 125 steals.
“The thing I like about Kaylie is against the tough teams last year she seemed like she picked up her scoring,” said Lembcke. “She is the type of player who can create shots for players so well also. So, there may be games where maybe she won’t score a lot of points but she will be involved, getting a lot of points for the team because she can draw defenses to her and draw the open player.”
Brazil is one of three co-captains, along with seniors Sami Jo Brinkmann and Natalie Stockman.
“She was a part time starter last year,” Lembcke said of Stockman. “She missed the first third of the season last year.”
The third senior on the team is Sara Marschall.
Brinkmann finished fourth in scoring with 196 points and also was second in rebounding (187) and first in blocks (64).
“Brinkmann started for us last year so we’re expecting a lot out of her,” said Lembcke.
Listed at 6-1, Brinkmann should provide some height for the Raiders, along with sophomore Morgan Karnes. Karnes, who started as a freshman for most of the season, finished third in rebounding last year (145).
Also helping the frontcourt this year is junior Megan Knickerbocker, who played for the squad as a freshman.
“Coming back out this year, she’s raw yet,” said Lembcke. “We’re hoping she can give us some minutes in the post area, because we are kind of lacking in size.”
Knickerbocker and Brazil are among the group of six juniors, along with Alli Curson, Madison Schlueter, Megan Geis and Megan Miller.
“We got a lot of juniors coming up from B squad last year,” he said. “They had a successful season… they really played tough defense and worked very well as a team. I think they’re going to step in and give us some depth.”
Also on the team are sophomore Clare Stuewe, freshmen Grace Wickenhauser and Shyann Wickenhauser and eighth-graders Kali Grimm and Bren Fox.
“We got a couple of young players that are pushing them that you always like to see,” said Lembcke. “You can see the future coming. We’re a little short in numbers so we have a few eighth-graders and they may work their way on varsity. We’ll see how it all plays out.”
Last year, the squad played a heavy up-tempo style and Lembcke expects that pace will continue.
“With Lexi (Erpenbach) and Kaylie (Brazil) we had the opportunity to get out and run,” he said, highlighting the athleticism in last year’s team. “We’ve got some very good athletes and we’d like to continue playing that style.”
The Raiders will navigate through a tough Minnesota River Conference, as Lembcke expects Jordan again to be at the top with Sibley East, Mayer Lutheran, Watertown and Belle Plaine also among the main contenders.
Jordan returns Madison Dean, who has committed to Drake University.
In their attempt to duplicate last season’s 6-0 start, the Raiders will be helped by an early home-heavy schedule as nine of their first 11 contests are at home, including the annual tournament on Dec. 27, co-hosted with the boys’ squad.
The Raiders open their season with four straight home games, hosting Mound Westonka on Dec. 3, Rockford on Dec. 6, Glencoe-Silver Lake on Dec. 7 and Le Sueur-Henderson on Dec. 12.
“It’s nice because we’ll have three non-conference games,” said Lembcke. “We got three that first week when we start playing games, so we’re going to be busy that week for sure.”
Contact Adam Gruenewald at firstname.lastname@example.org.