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Girls basketball: Leadership key for Agates in 2017-18

Two Harbors junior Tori Bott secures the rebound in a game against Cromwell-Wright last season. (News-Chronicle file photo)

Two Harbors girls basketball team started last season with a school record 11-straight victories, and expected to be in contention for the Section 7AA title. Injuries derailed the season.

Several players missed playing time due to injuries, including leading scorer Ayla Lemke and top defender Katie Archer as well as guards Brianna McGrath and Carina Hebl. The Agates' season ended with a loss to International Falls in the section quarterfinals at Romano Gym in Duluth.

Knee injuries in particular plagued Two Harbors, but coach Chris Lemke said the team has been working with specialists at St. Luke's to ensure the team is stretching properly to prevent injuries.

Hebl and Archer will return this season injury-free. They will be joined by fellow captains Brianna Hiukka, Cassi Prince and Tori Bott for strong core leadership for the team.

Lemke said he wasn't sure about designating so many captains when the team voted after the end of last season, but all five were virtually tied. He decided to give it a chance. So far, the group hasn't disappointed with the girls taking charge during team meetings and set the tone for the rest of the players.

"I don't have to tell them what to say; they speak from their heart and they know what's important," Lemke said. "They articulate it and the girls follow it. It's a lot of fun to watch as a coach to see that quality."

The Agates have a lot of work to do to match their record of 20-8 from a year ago after losing nine seniors from that squad, but with Hebl and Archer healthy and Bott poised to dominate in the paint, the season could still be successful. The losses will hurt, particularly on the offensive end, but Two Harbors hopes its defense will be stout and perhaps spark its offense.

"We need to figure out who we are offensively and how everything is all going to fit in, but the plan is to stay in games with defense," Lemke said. "We're really trying to concentrate on the defensive end and hopefully that leads to offense. Then we need to figure out our identity a little bit in terms of who is going to put the ball in the hole."

Hebl will be Two Harbors' primary ball carrier. Bott will provide height, scoring and rebounding in the paint.

Lemke said Hebl has a quick, accurate 3-point shot and the court vision to make find the open player, while Bott's height, at around 6-foot-1, will help clean up missed shots and protect the rim defensively.

"We all know what Tori can do," Lemke said. "But so does the other team, so that's going to make it harder on her."

The team also has a strong sophomore class coming into the season with Kate Tomasen, Elsa Peterson, Emily Olson, Trish Osbakken and others that will provide depth, which Two Harbors has lacked in the past.

"For the first time in a really long time, we can sub quite a few people," Lemke said. "A lot of those girls are really close in terms of abilities, and so I'm hoping we can throw a lot of bodies out there."

Two Harbors may not dominate teams like they did early last season, but with solid defensive play and strong leadership from its captains, it will likely again be competitive in the section.

"We told these girls is we are anticipating a battle every single night," Lemke said. "I think they are good enough they can play with whoever they set their mind to playing with. They are not going to be able to put it in cruise."

Two Harbors will tip off its season at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1, at Proctor.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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