NASHWAUK — For the past three seasons, Nashwauk-Keewatin High School girls basketball coach Dan Owens has never had a senior.
That put a lot of pressure on the Spartans’ younger players, having to pick up that slack, but with that comes experience and Nashwauk-Keewatin has gained enough of that.
Three years later, those younger players are now seniors, and that should bode well for the Spartans as the 2021 season is set to begin next week.
Misty Bozich, Kiara Clusiau, Harmony Folstad, Emily Howard, Madi Owens, Johnnie Waldvogel and Chloe Williams should have enough experience to carry Nashwauk-Keewatin to a successful season.
“I’m hoping that at this stage of the game that some of the jitters they carried with them when they were younger are gone,” Owens said. “Now that they’re older, those kinds of things should have subsided.
“They should be coming in with some confidence, knowing they are the older group. They should be able to handle pressure situations better, and they have a lot more composure.”
In the past, Owens and Waldvogel have been the Spartans primary scorers. That should stay true this season, but they’re going to need some help on the offensive end of the floor.
“They were our go-to girls,” Owens said. “Misty and Chloe will be those people who we need to step up when they put the clamps on Madi and Johnnie. We have to rely on Misty, Chloe and Kiara, all of them, to help out.
“They have the experience. They should bring that with them. Most of them have been playing on the varsity since the eighth- and ninth-grades. I’m hoping that experience is a positive for us.”
Jazzlyn Svaleson is the lone junior on the team, but she also has varsity experience.
“She’s been with that group for quite a while,” Owens said. “She should jump in there and be productive, both offensively and defensively. She’s quick. She sees the floor well, and she uses that to her advantage.
“She’s also a nice person to have on defense.”
Sophomores on the team will be Emma Williams and Katrina Evans, along with Jocelyn Maki.
“Emma and Katrina haven’t been there long enough, but I’ll be comfortable with them being on the floor,” Owens said. “Jocelyn, she’ll get some time. She’s new to basketball, but she can be a nice post player for us.”
Four freshmen could see time. They include Claire Clusiau, Arissa Hammer, Kaitlin Olson and Jaci Rebrovich.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing them get some minutes, but with that big group of seniors, our core is 10th-grade and up,” Owens said.
Defensively, Owens is hoping to switch from a 2-3 zone to man-to-man.
“We’ll try to play a lot more man this year,” Owens said. “We’ve been gradually working to be better at man. It’s more productive but tougher when you’re first getting into it. Mistakes show up a lot more on the other end when you play man.
“We’re getting better at it. We’ll stick to man more, but if we run into trouble, we have our 2-3 to fall back on. It’s good, but it doesn’t always do the job.”
Owens said the identity of this team should be speed.
“We don’t have a lot of height,” Owens said. “We’ll have to take advantage of our speed, whether it be in man at halfcourt, or becoming a team that can press. We’re quick enough to get steals and turnovers.
“That’s what I’ve been expecting from them. We’ll use our speed to create those turnovers.”
Like every team, there will be challenges to overcome this season. Owens is ready for that challenge.
“We’re in the same boat as everybody,” Owens said. “We have nine days to get ready for our first game. We’ve been gone for so long. There was no summer league. We’re trying to get our basketball legs under us, and get a feel for the ball again.
“Once we get a couple games under our belt, that will come around. I’m hoping everybody stays healthy and our games don’t get canceled. It’s tough to reschedule games right now.”