Wykons open season in style
HANCOCK/IRON RIVER—The outlook for the West Iron County girls basketball team heading into the 2019-20 season was partly unknown and may still be. On one hand, the Wykons returned two of the best players in the U.P. in Emily Nelson and Anna Malmquist but beyond that, the cast is largely inexperienced and new to the varsity level.
So as the Wykons entered the first week with three new starters and seven of its 10 players having never played a varsity minute, the questions were there. But through two games, coach Eric Shamion’s squad has shown early signs of being a team to be reckoned with again.
West Iron began the week with a 43-35 road victory over Hancock in a West Pac Conference game on Dec. 3 and then defeated Escanaba 51-39 in a nonconference contest at Charles Greenlund Gymnasium on Dec. 6.
After his team’s come-from-behind win over the Eskymos (1-1), Shamion was guardedly optimistic of his team’s standing.
“Of course, you’re always excited to win the first two games, but we’re still working on team chemistry,” he said. “We’re moving in the right direction, but it’s going to take some more time. Anytime you can beat a quality team like Escanaba, I think that gives you some confidence, but we’ve got a lot of basketball to go.”
As opposed to their victory over Hancock in which the Wykons led from start to finish, West Iron played from behind for much of the first 26 minutes against the Eskymos. Escanaba grabbed a quick 8-2 lead, highlighted by five points from 5-foot-11 junior Nicole Kamin, a Grand Valley State recruit. But then West Iron answered with six straight, led by sophomore guard Aurora Dahl, who hit a perimeter shot and a free throw.
From there, the teams stayed within three points of each other with Escanaba leading most of the time. That was until Nelson enforced herself on the game.
The 6-foot-1 Michigan Tech-bound center scored 11 of her game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter to lift her team to a 43-39 lead with 3:14 to play. After some early struggles finishing around the hoop, Nelson began to convert with regularity and dominated the game offensively, defensively and on the backboards.
“She really showed what she’s capable of in the fourth quarter,” Shamion said of Nelson, who also grabbed 21 rebounds and blocked five shots. “She’s such a force anywhere on the court and she wasn’t going to be denied. It was fun to see that tiger in her come out because that’s what we need to be successful.”
Despite her unassuming and modest nature, Nelson knows what she brings to the court.
“I know I’m the strongest kid out there, but sometimes I just don’t finish (shots),” she said. “I just have to get over that mental part.”