LHS girls ready to reload
A 9-12 record and 68-45 loss to Mill Valley in the first round of the Class 5A substate tournament wasn't what the Lansing High girls basketball team had in mind for the 2006-2007 season.
The growth the Lions made, however, could pay big dividends next year.
Statistics don't guarantee future success, but they do paint an intriguing picture.
Consider this: Lansing returned just two starters and just 30 percent of the offense from a year ago.
"It was a little frightening knowing that outside of Katie (Nietzke), you had no real proven scorers coming back," third-year LHS coach Keith Andrews said. "We saw some kids step up and step into that role."
The Lions knew the road would be bumpy this season, and it certainly was. They started 1-6 before placing second at the Tonganoxie Invitational Tournament in January and winning eight of their final 14 games.
Nietzke, a junior and third-year varsity player, stepped into a leadership role for the first time and also carried additional scoring responsibilities.
Two other third-year varsity players - juniors Morgan Chiles and Amanda Darrow - also had to learn how to lead while being spark plugs for the defense.
Junior Christine Cordes and sophomore Alexis Ellis gained valuable experience in the post in preparation for next year when both will carry a bulk of the minutes inside.
Sophomore Brittney Lang became a go-to scorer and a lethal three-point threat.
Freshmen Amy Briggs, Abbey Lozenski and Katelyn Griffen breathed new life into a young junior varsity program and then made key contributions to the varsity club.
Seniors Elizabeth Cristiano, Chanel Johnson, Mary Lyon and Kara Ritchey all provided depth in the post, and Cristiano carried additional leadership responsibilities as a second-year starter.
Andrews noted that the seniors' final season ended earlier than they'd hoped it would, but he pointed out that they'd helped pave the way for the future.
"The unfortunate thing is this is the end for those seniors, and we appreciate their contributions," he said. "Now those underclassmen have to realize that their time is fast, fast approaching."
OK, now for a few more stats. The Lions will return 10 players with varsity experience next year. Those 10 account for 95.3 percent of this season's offense.
Four starters will return next year, including the entire backcourt of Nietzke, Lang and Darrow.
The top six scorers all will be back, led by Nietzke's 12.2 points per game, Lang's 9.7 average and Briggs' 6.4 average.
As important as the bevy of returning offense will be, Nietzke said it's the experience from this year - the ups and downs, and the adjustment to new roles - that will benefit the Lions the most in the future.
"It's been a big learning experience for everybody," she said. "I needed to step up this year, and I pushed myself harder."
Nietzke also said the three freshmen who played varsity and those on the junior varsity made the Lions better.
"Having the help from the JV and the freshmen really pushed us, because it wasn't like we could just sit back and be happy that we're playing on varsity," she said. "Now we have to work for a spot, and I think that's really what kept us going the whole season. Having that influence from the underclassmen pushed us. I know it pushed me a lot."
Andrews said that in order for the Lions to improve on what they learned this season, they must commit to basketball in the summer. He said the gym and the weight room would be open in the summer, and opportunities would be created for the team to play.
Nietzke said the Lions are ready to make that offseason commitment.
"We're definitely making time in the offseason to get in the weight room and step up because we've definitely got to get bigger," she said. "Hopefully it goes well, because I'm looking forward to next season."