by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Amid the disappointment of losing a game that would have gotten them into a state tournament, there was a sense for Elk River that multiple more chances will come.
“We are going to return a lot of kids, and Elk River girls basketball is going to be tough for a number of years,” said Elk coach Reed Caouette after the 68-59 loss to STMA in the section finals on Friday night.
Senior co-captain Jordyn Sohns is the lone starter graduating, with just one other senior on the squad, guard Holly Skalsky, who gave them some outside punch off the bench. Sohns is a big, athletic guard who’ll be missed.
Returning are the scoring leaders, junior guard Shelby Gracik and freshman center Abi Scheid, along with two more starters, soph guard Anna Rollag and junior forward Molli Detloff, and top subs including freshman forward Jayme Langbehn, junior center Brittani Cornelius, junior guard Erin Ness and soph forward Gabbi Jung.
The nimble, 6-foot-2 Scheid, who averaged more than 13 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks, is a major building block.
“That number forty-four, I wish she was a senior,” said STMA coach Kent Hamre. “She will be tough for years go come.”
There’s help coming from the younger teams, too.
“Our sophomores only lost three games, and our freshmen were unbeaten,” said Caouette. “Our JV had a tough year but there’s some talent there, too. We’ll have good players at every level.”
The Elks need to find a point guard or two, though, or get marked ball handling improvement from current guards, or they will continue to be bogged down by 25 to 30 empty possessions per game, just like this year. When the Elks had just 13 turnovers against a good Rogers team, largely due to Sohns, they won 66-45 in the semifinals. But the turnovers were back in droves against a stout STMA defense, 17 in the first half, 15 more in the second half. “That has been our achilles heel all season,” lamented Caouette.
It would also help immeasurably if the Elks could improve their shooting. This team has several very good athletes who can’t make a jump shot or even a layup consistently. Shooting is one of the easiest things in sports to improve upon — you can work on it for hours by yourself — so the players need to take that upon themselves if they want to make a state tournament trip.
STMA has won five of the last eight section titles and will no doubt remain a force, but the Knights do graduate six of the nine players who scored against the Elks.
This season was big step forward for the Elks, who were 7-20 just a year ago. The current team was 16-13 against a pretty formidable schedule.
“I have to give our kids a lot of credit,” said Caouette, “for the way they turned things around from last year to this year, for all the improvements they made throughout the season.”