The eight seniors on West Iron’s girls varsity team were honored just prior to their final home game Feb. 20. From left: Jaclyn Waara, Dylan Baeten, Emily Aho, Taylor Miilu, Shannon Koski, Joanna Pellizzer, Alexis Heimerl and Gina Strom.
IRON RIVER—An era ended with flowers Feb. 23. Flowers and tears.
Eight West Iron County senior girls received bouquets and tributes from their teammates and cheers from the hometown fans just before their game with Florence—their last home game.
They include WIC’s all-time girls scoring leader, Jaclyn Waara, and several other starters: Shannon Koski, Joanna Pellizzer, Alexis Heimerl and Emily Aho. (Heimerl and Aho split starts this year.)
Two more seniors, Taylor Miilu and Dylan Baeten, also played on their home floor for the final time. The eighth senior, Gina Strom, was in street clothes for the ceremony.
The game itself was secondary: The Wykons earned an easy 57-26 win over the Bobcats. It was anything but easy three nights earlier, Feb. 20, when West Iron pulled out a 57-56 victory at L’Anse on Koski’s three-point shot in the final seconds.
This week, the Wykons head to Norway for the Class C District 95 tournament. They finish the regular season with a 17-3 overall record, 6-2 in the West Pac Conference.
The Wykon girls’ best season during Dallavalle’s tenure speaks for itself. So does Waara’s career—last week, she was voted West Pac most valuable player for the second straight year.
“I don’t know if I have enough words for them,” said Dallavalle. “Jaclyn’s a four-year starter. Shannon’s a three-year starter. Joanna and Emily have been with us two years.
“They’re just a great group of hard-working kids. They love to play basketball. They come to the gym and play hard. I don’t have to prod them to run faster, I don’t have to scream at them to play harder. In practice, their attitudes are always very positive. And they’re fun kids—they have a good sense of humor. They’re all competitive, and they don’t like to lose.
“They’re going to be missed—mostly by me but also by these fans, watching them play. I can’t say enough about what they mean to me.”
Against Florence, the Wykons struggled with their shooting in the first half—they led 15-5 late in the first quarter but only 21-12 at halftime. WIC shot 28% from the floor in the first half, 14% from the three point line.
The Bobcats were on borrowed time, though. The Wykons found their range in the second half, shooting 42%, including five triples—two each by Waara and Kylee Erickson. Both girls made three triples in the game, and Aho also buried a trey.
Waara led West Iron with 19 points, and Erickson scored 15, followed by Aho with seven and Heimerl and Koski with six each.
“Our defense was stable all night,” said Dallavalle, “but we were not putting the ball in the basket. Maybe lack of concentration with everything going on, the seniors’ last night and so on.”
At L’Anse, Wykon turnovers and shooting problems (29% in the first half) got them in trouble. The Purple Hornets led by one at halftime and by three as the fourth quarter began.
“They were ready for us,” said Dallavalle, “and they played harder than us for 2 ½ quarters. We missed a lot of lay-ups in the first half, and that gave L’Anse a window to stay in the game.”
The Purple Hornets led by eight early in the fourth quarter, but West Iron kept its composure and rallied back. Ahead by two with two minutes left, they missed three shots, and L’Anse fought back. Maddie Swanson converted a three-point play, and Kelsey Ross hit a three, putting L’Anse up by two.
Dallavalle called time with 16 seconds left and called for a play where Waara would shoot off a screen. “We were just going for two.” But Waara was too closely defended.
Plan B: Erickson passed to Koski, who fired from well behind the three-point line—and connected with 3.2 seconds left. “It was beautiful,” said the coach. “She just looked at the rim and swish!” A L’Anse half-court shot at the horn missed.
“We probably got away with one there, but the girls worked hard to stay in the game and to make that comeback.”
Waara scored nine of her game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter, and Koski got six of her 14. Koski made all three of her three-point shots.
“Shannon, being the leader she is, made a big shot at the end. And Jaclyn played outstanding the whole game—kind of a quiet 29, really. We were shooting so poorly [31% for the game] that we didn’t realize, but she played a really good game.”
Heimerl had nine rebounds and shut down L’Anse’s Valerie Rajala, Koski had seven boards, and Pellizzer had six. Swanson’s 18 led L’Anse, and Stephanie Raymond had 14.
• District 95 tournament action at Norway started Monday with the Wykons taking on the host Knights and Iron Mountain battling Stephenson. The Monday winners tip off for the District 95 championship at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 29.
During the season, the Wykons beat Iron Mountain by 19 in the season’s second game, beat Norway twice (by seven points each time) and demolished Stephenson on Jan. 31.
The district winner advances to the Class C regional tourney at Marquette starting March 6, facing the Manistique winner at 6 p.m. Eastern Time. The Ironwood and Gwinn district winners battle at 8 Eastern. The regional title game is Thursday, March 8, at 7 Eastern.
Wykons 11 12 11 23 -- 57
P.Hornets 8 16 13 19 -- 56
Bobcats 8 4 8 6 -- 26
Wykons 15 6 23 13 -- 57