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Girls Basketball: Chemistry, dedication lead to PL girls basketball success

The Patriot girls have won 20 of their first 21 games

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Pequot Lakes' Maci Martini passes to the wing in the Patriots' win over Park Rapids on Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021. Dan Determan / Echo Journal

Expectations were fairly high this year for the Patriot girls basketball team. They went 18-3 in a shortened 2021 season before falling to Duluth Marshall in the section semifinals. On top of that, they parted ways with just one starter.

So maybe the fact the Patriots are 20-1 at the time of publication is not a complete surprise, but it is no less impressive.

Head Coach Brian Lempola, in his second year on the bench for the Patriots, says a key reason for the team’s enjoyable winter is what he said was a very productive summer.

“Our offseason really helped lay the groundwork,” Lempola said. “We had excellent turnout for our speed and strength sessions and our summer camp, and then we went out and we sought out some really good competition to play in tournaments.”

In addition to the hard work done in the offseason, the coach also points to a whole bunch of team chemistry as a reason for the team’s 20 wins.

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“They just have really great attitudes, and they really care about each other,” he said. “That means they know that they're going to have each other's back when they're up against it in difficult games.”

Anchoring the team has been junior guard Maci Martini, who averaged 20.6 points per game through the first 20 games. She has also averaged nearly five rebounds per game and made 46% of her shots behind the 3-point line.

“Maci has just been outstanding, from a leadership perspective to her on-court play,” Lempola said. “She just brings the energy and the focus every single night. She has been an outstanding scorer. That’s what her role is on the team – scoring – and she is doing it in bunches.

“I think everybody feeds off of her, and she does a good job of getting her teammates involved, really crashing the boards and playing really great defense.”

Lauren Schultz
Pequot Lakes' Lauren Schultz powers up for a contested shot against Moose Lake/Willow River on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.
Echo Journal File Photo

Martini’s younger sister Kelsi has also made an impact for the team, averaging 10.4 points per game, while Lauren Schultz has been a defensive presence for the Patriots with roughly six rebounds and two blocks per game.

That said, Lempola sees guard Isabel Larson as a real X-factor for the team. The sophomore has averaged roughly 12 points, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game.

“She gives us a tremendous spark,” Lempola said. “She is just so quick and she reads things so well. Her court vision has been outstanding. It's not a surprise to us, but she has really stepped in and done an awesome job this year.”

I don't see a whole lot of weaknesses in this crew. They're pretty focused and eager to get in some big games down the stretch.
Brian Lempola, Patriots Head Coach

With four games left in the regular season – three of them against Mid-State Conference rivals – the Patriots simply hope to keep doing what has worked for them so far: doing the little things right, but not taking life too seriously.

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“We just need to continue having competitive practices and doing the right things off the court,” Lempola said. “We have great leadership and team chemistry – they enjoy each other and they have fun. We need to continue balancing the focus and preparation of basketball, but also taking time-outs for things like ‘jersey night’ or ‘goofy sock night.’”

The Patriots face Staples-Motley on the road on Thursday, Feb. 17.

“I don't see a whole lot of weaknesses in this crew,” Lempola said. “They're pretty focused and eager to get in some big games down the stretch.”

Patriots 71, Esko 54
ESKO — Maci Martini scored a game-high 20 points as Pequot Lakes recorded their 15th-straight with a 71-54 triumph against Section 7-2A opponent Esko Thursday, Feb 10.

The Patriots improved to 9-0 against section opponents and are currently No. 1 in the Section 7-2A standings. Esko dropped to 5-3 against section opponents and was no. 3 in the standings.

Kelsi Martini and Isabel Larson eached added 10 points as the Patriots won for the 20th time.

Esko 28 26 — 54

Pequot Lakes 39 32 — 71

ESKO

Hannah Swanson 2, Kallie Sinnott 3, Jayden Karppinen 18, Aila Gabel 4, Avery Kuklinski 12, Emily Rengo 2, Kyra Johnson 10, Rachel Antonutti 3. FT 5-9 (56%).

PEQUOT LAKES

Isabel Larson 10, Kelsi Martini 10, Maci Martini 27, Sydnie Wgeishofski 2, Kaitlyn Geschwill 3, Lauren Schultz 7, Reese Laposky 8, Ella Kratochvil 4. FT 8-11 (73%). Overall: 20-1.

Dan Determan, sports writer/staff writer, may be reached at 218-855-5879 or dan.determan@pineandlakes.com . Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.

Dan Determan has been a reporter for the Echo Journal since 2014, primarily covering sports at Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus
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