CRYSTAL FALLS—Their very late start to practice caught up with Forest Park’s girls basketball team last week as the Lady Trojans opened their new season.
They enter this week with an 0-2 record, both overall and in the Skyline Conference, after losing at North Central (49-47) and Bark River-Harris (55-52).
“I’m not happy to be 0-2,” said Coach Jeff Syrjanen, “but I did see a huge amount of improvement from game one to game two.
“And we’ve got to be happy that we went to what may be the best team in Class D in the U.P. and had them on the ropes for most of the game.” That would be Bark River, which went to the state finals last spring.
Forest Park’s problems both nights were mainly in the third quarter, when they got outscored by a combined 39-19--a 20-point difference in games they lost by a total of five.
That marathon volleyball season is at the bottom of it, of course--the girls aren’t ready to run all night yet. “In the second quarter,” Syrjanan said, “I could see we were starting to gas out. We’re not in playing shape.”
The Lady Trojans’ season-opener at North Central Nov. 29 was just 12 days after the state volleyball semifinals at Battle Creek. Forest Park officials had suggested rescheduling the game in January, but North Central was eager to get the season started. Game on!
Lexi Gussert connected on a pair of three-pointers early but picked up her third foul in the second quarter and had to take a seat. “Losing her was a huge thing for us,” Syrjanen said, “but the subs did a great job.” Gina Graff got a couple baskets, and helped keep the Trojans ahead 20-18 at halftime.
The Jets stepped up their game in the third quarter, attacking the net hard and adding several three-pointers, outscoring Forest Park 20-9 and taking a 38-29 lead.
FP’s shots weren’t falling in the third quarter, but they started clicking in the fourth, helped by several steals and Gussert, who scored 11 points. Despite losing Bartczak on fouls, the Lady Trojans had a shot at the end. “We had the ball under our basket with 2½ seconds to go for an inbounds play,” Syrjanen recounted, “but we couldn’t get the shot off.
“They’re a pretty big-sized team, but our pressure defense got to them, and we were able to get back in the game. We just got too far behind in the third period.”
Stats: Gussert led with 19 points, Audrey Sholander had 11 and Bartczak had nine. Gussert led with seven rebounds, and Bartczak had six. Sholander led with three steals—Cornelia and Gussert had two each.
FP shot just 13 of 45 (29%) from the floor but was 18 of 27 at the free throw line.
At Bark River three days later, the Lady Trojans started well, playing the same kind of uptempo game that the Broncos like. “We wanted to play it with them,” said Syrjanen, “and we did it better than them in the first half.” The Trojans’ trapping defense worked well, and so did a new press.
At the break, things looked good: FP led 32-24, and both Gussert and Bartczak only had one foul. They had also held the Broncos’ top player, 5-11 Sarah Madalinski, to only two points.
“But energy caught us in the third quarter,” the coach said. “It caused turnovers and fouls that we typically wouldn’t make.”
The tide turned after Bartczak picked up three quick fouls in the third frame--two of them on charging fouls, which also canceled Forest Park baskets. She had to take a seat, and that’s all Madalinski needed. She went off for 14 points in just the third quarter.
“There’s your game,” said the coach. “We had shut her down well doing the defense that we wanted to use, but when we got into foul trouble and had to make changes, it worked to her benefit.”
The Lady Trojans only have nine players this year, and right now they don’t have a reserve tall enough to spell Gussert and Bartczak down low. The girl who took over guarding 5-11 Madalinski is just 5-5. “We have to change our game plan.”
Bark River outscored FP 19-10 in the third. In the other three quarters, FP outscored Bark River by seven.
The coach said Ana Cornelia, Kaitlin Shamion and freshman Adel Isaacson all improved their play in the Bark River game. “They’re only improving each week.”
Gussert led the Trojans with 25 points, Bartczak had 13, and Sholander added nine. Gussert added nine boards, three blocks and six steals, Bartczak and Sholander had four rebounds each, and Sholander led with four steals. FP shot 35% from the floor and made 14 of 21 free throws.
• The Trojans open their home season Dec. 6 with another Skyline opponent, Carney-Nadeau. On Dec. 9, Kingsford invades the Eddie Chambers Gym.
Trojans 9 11 9 18 -- 47
Jets 10 8 20 11 -- 49
Trojans 17 15 10 11 -- 52
Broncos 10 14 19 12 -- 55