BY Duncan MacLean
After losing their all-time leading scorer to the ranks of college ball, the Spring Lake girls basketball team is retooling for the 2017-18 season.
Despite losing the volume scoring of Reiko Johnson, the Lakers return their other four starters from last year’s 16-7 team who are eager to build on their successful season and avenge its abrupt ending in the Class B district finals.
With tremendous length in the post, high-level experience at nearly every position and a promising young guard running point, the Lakers will adopt a totally new philosophy from a year ago with much of the same personnel.
Nearly everyone. Madeline Zenas, Madelyn Nelson, Jenna Core, and Linsey Paggeot all return from the starting lineup, along with senior Rebecca VanDeWeg and Kayli Sneller.
The returning starters will lead the charge in the reimagining of the Spring Lake team, as each one possesses game-breaking traits that will allow the Lakers to spread the floor and play position-less basketball.
“Our whole team is going to be a different dynamic,” Spring Lake head coach Cavin Mohrhardt said. “I’ve got four returning starters, and I think they realize it is their team, and I think all four of them are capable of scoring more than they did last year because they just didn’t have to with the way our team was constructed.
“Nelson and Paggeot can both play point guard, and quite frankly, so can Core. She has a great outside shot and can take anybody to the hole. Zenas can run the floor better than any big in the state. She is quick and just goes forever and can play outside, too. VanDeWeg and Sneller gave us good minutes last year, so they know the system, as well.
“The key is that we are going to be interchangeable. My hope is that is going to make us tough to stop. We just have more weapons than we are used to. I am excited; I think they are excited, too. It is going to be an interesting year.”
With just 11 players on the varsity roster, the Lakers will have to call upon their newbies for serious playing time from the get-go. Luckily, the new crop of varsity recruits is chock-full of stellar athletes.
Taking over in the driver’s seat of the Spring Lake offense will be sophomore Phoebe Saunders, coming off a year on Spring Lake’s prolific varsity golf and soccer teams.
Joining her in their first stint on varsity basketball are junior standout softball pitcher Leah Vaughn, sophomore varsity volleyball player Abbi Perkins, Mackenzie Eli, a standout varsity lacrosse player for the Lakers, and rising soccer star Ashley Knollinger.
“Pheobe played junior varsity last year as a freshman, and she is capable of running, shooting and dribbling,” Mohrhardt said. “Her and Abbi have been in the program for a long time and are very solid players. Vaughn, Eli, and Nolenger are super athletes and should help out all over the court.
“Because of our depth, everyone is going to have to be able to play.”
WHAT TO EXPECT
A slow start and a strong finish. The Lakers are gearing up for another tough run through the O-K Blue Conference with an even tougher opening schedule, taking on Ottawa Hills, Caledonia, Rockford, Fruitport, Shelby, and Reeths-Puffer before beginning their conference season.
As each player grows into their new role and the team-centric basketball develops with time on the court, Spring Lake will look to build into conference contention by the end of the season.
“We set the schedule up so by the time we get into the league, we know exactly what we are and what we have to do,” Mohrhardt said. “We could be zero-and-everything, but we are going to find out who we are.
“We want to compete to win (the conference). I don’t think we should expect anything less, and our girls have that confidence, too.”
Following the conference, Mohrhardt hopes to make a more meaningful run than their trip to the district finals a year ago.
“We ran into a good Oakridge team last year,” he said. “We are going to take it one game at a time, of course, but I think we are good enough to win past districts this year.”
With a wealth of length, versatile players and quality athletes filling the bench, there is no telling how high the Lakers could climb this season.
Tribune photo/Duncan MacLean: The 2017-18 Spring Lake girls varsity basketball team. Front row (left to right): Leah Vaughn, Phoebe Saunders, Madelyn Nelson, Mackenzie Eli, Linsey Paggeot and Kayli Sneller. Back row (left to right): head coach Cavin Mohrhardt, Ashley Knollinger, Jenna Core, Madeline Zenas, Abbi Perkins, Rebecca VanDeWeg and assistant coach Becky Johnson.