CRYSTAL FALLS—All season, Coach Jeff Syrjanen has been telling anyone willing to listen that his Forest Park girls basketball team has more weapons than all-state candidate Lexi Gussert.
Maybe they will listen now.
For the first time in her four-year high school career, Gussert didn’t play in the Lady Trojans Jan. 20 game at Iron Mountain. (She had the flu.) But Forest Park didn’t miss a beat, and the Lexi-less team still walloped the Mountaineers 74-39.
Lexi was back in action Jan. 23 as her team obliterated Rapid River 79-14 at home. The two wins put FP at 13-0 for the season, 9-0 in Skyline Conference games.
At Iron Mountain, the team found out just before the game that Lexi wouldn’t play. “We came in a little nervous,” Syrjanen said. “They had never played without her before. Ever.”
It meant some girls had to play different positions, with Adel Isaacson getting a start.
“It was real interesting,” the coach said. “Everyone is trying to figure out how we would respond. But I was pretty certain our kids could handle it.”
They did. Kendra Campbell took over the lead forward role and scored 21 points, and three teammates (Sierra Robarge, Maria Stankewicz, Jessica Bawyn) scored either 11 or 10 points. “The whole team rallied.”
With Robarge hitting a pair of threes, the Trojans led 14-8 after the first quarter. Bawyn and Campbell each scored six in the second frame, boosting FP to a 31-15 halftime lead.
Campbell led the attack in the third quarter with 11 of FP’s 27 points. Another game with a running clock.
“I think the kids were pretty proud of themselves, knowing they could do it without their leader,” Syrjanen commented. “It was a great win, and I think a very important win down the road for us—we had kids who really stepped it up for us big-time.
“It just goes to show we’re more of a balanced team than a lot of people think.” It’s something for opponents to think about if they are looking ahead to facing a Lexi-less Forest Park team next year.
“No matter who it is, we’re a team. That’s kind of our message to ourselves and everyone else.”
The Lady Trojans shot at a 53% clip (31 of 59). Campbell had eight rebounds, Stankewicz led with five steals and four assists, and Robarge had three helpers.
Alena Herman led IM with 12 points, and three teammates scored eight each.
Trojans 14 17 27 16 -- 74
M’tneers 8 7 13 11 -- 39
Gussert was back in uniform for the Rapid River game but was hardly needed as the Lady Trojans quickly buried the Rockets in points.
Forest Park scored the first 34 points and led 42-4 after one, including 15 by Stankewicz and 12 by Gussert. The halftime score of 56-8 meant a running clock for the entire second half.
“That got ugly fast,” Syrjanen said. “It probably didn’t do them any good, and it probably didn’t do us any good.” Rapid River tried a box-and-one defense on Gussert—and quickly learned how well she passes to teammates.
This year, the difference in talent and experience is just that big—which is sad considering some of the great Forest Park-Rapid River girls games in the past.
Gussert ended with 20 points, with four triples and 10 assists. Stankewicz had 19 points, Bawyn scored nine, and Abby Nylund and Robarge scored seven each.
Trojans 42 14 12 11 -- 79
Rockets 4 4 6 0 -- 14
• The Lady Trojans were scheduled to visit Carney-Nadeau on Jan. 27 and Kingsford on Jan. 30. Their next home games are against Baraga on Feb. 3 and vs. West Iron on Feb. 6.