Kendra Campbell makes the most of an open lane to the net during Forest Park’s win over Rapid River on Jan. 26.
CRYSTAL FALLS—Getting stronger by the week, Forest Park’s girls team put on a strong offensive show Jan. 24 at Iron Mountain, defeating the Mountaineers 52-35.
The Lady Trojans followed that with a 50-29 win at home over Rapid River on Jan. 26, boosting their record to 10-4 overall and 7-2 in Skyline Conference hoops.
More important than the two wins, the Lady Trojans are showing marked improvement on an earlier weakness—an over-dependence on sophomore center Lexi Gussert.
All season, Gussert has been Forest Park’s main scoring threat—at times, she had nearly half her team’s points. That’s great for Lexi’s stats but dangerous for the team: If the team grows over-dependent on her scoring and a playoff opponent keeps her in check, the Lady Trojans’ hopes of going deep into the playoffs would be at risk.
That’s why Coach Jeff Syrjanen was happy to see how his team played at Iron Mountain. Gussert scored 16 points, but four teammates—Kendra Campbell. Tanner Bartczak, Audrey Sholander and Kaitlin Shamion--scored eight or nine each.
“It’s really paying off,” said Syrjanen. “If we can continue to do that, we’ll be hard to beat.” And, he added, don’t worry about Gussert: “Lexi will get her points no matter what.”
The Trojans’ other weapon at IM was strong defense. “We just did not allow them to get good looks. We knew they are bigger than us, but we used our quickness to make it difficult for them to get the ball inside.”
FP used a 1-3-1 zone and held the Mountaineers to four points in the first quarter. The girls led 23-6 late in the first half before IM rallied 9-0 just before halftime, cashing in some transition baskets.
Katelyn Johnson made a pair of threes in the third quarter, as IM whittled FP’s lead to seven. The Lady Trojans went back to their pressure defense in the final quarter, putting a half-court press on IM. “They had some turnovers, and we had a nice fourth quarter.”
Gussert’s 16 led the team, and Campbell scored nine, followed by three Trojans with eight: Bartczak, Sholander and Shamion. Gussert had eight rebounds, six steals and two blocks. Sholander finished with six rebounds, and Campbell had four.
For IM, Rikki Gingras led with 15, and Johnson scored nine. FP shot 40% to IM’s 31%.
Back home against Rapid River, the Trojans started quickly and led by seven late in the first quarter. The Rockets blasted back with an 8-0 run, featuring a pair of threes by Kelly Bintner, and took the lead briefly. FP replied with a 10-2 run that put the Lady Trojans ahead 22-17 at halftime.
Forest Park changed its offense in the third quarter, putting four girls on the perimeter and Gussert inside. “Whenever she could,” Syrjanen said, “she’d pop out, and that’s when she was getting looks at the threes, taking the extra pressure against her.
“She was able to find the seams, and we passed the better in the second half and took care of things better.”
Gussert powered 11-1 and 11-2 Forest Park rallies in the third quarter. In one sequence, she stole the ball and dribbled in for a lay-up, posted up for another bucket, grabbed a Rockets miss and passed to Ana Cornelia, who scored and was fouled. Cornelia missed the free throw, but Gussert got the rebound and, a few seconds later, made a three-pointer.
That made it a 15-point lead. Rapid River made a pair of threes to cut the gap to nine, but Gussert’s second three launched the 11-2 run.
She scored 12 points in the third quarter and 20 in the game, but the Trojans also got scoring from Bartczak (11), Campbell (eight) and Sholander (seven). Heather Sanderson led Rapid River with 10 points.
Gussert had 11 rebounds and three steals, while Bartczak collected six boards. Forest Park shot 37%, and the Rockets were 26%.
With Campbell battling an illness, Cornelia was called on for some extra defense. “Ana had a nice game for us all night, and did a nice job defensively out there for us.”
An important win, said Syrjanen, because it broke a tie for second place in the Skyline Conference—both teams were 6-2 going in. The Lady Trojans still have a chance to tie for the Skyline Conference title—if someone can beat Bark River-Harris. “Hopefully, we can run the table in the conference and get help from somebody.”
• The Lady Trojans visit Carney-Nadeau on Jan. 30 and then head to Kingsford Feb. 2. (Back on Dec. 9, the Flivvers won 62-46 loss at Forest Park.) Baraga visits on Feb. 6.
Trojans 11 13 12 16 -- 52
M’tneers 4 11 14 6 -- 35
Rockets 10 7 9 3 -- 29
Trojans 12 10 20 8 -- 50