Thunderbirds only have 10 players
By Greg Seubert
Mark Wester has seen just about everything in his 20 seasons as coach of the Iola-Scandinavia girls’ basketball team.
However, he’s never had a 10-player roster without a junior varsity team. That’s what the Thunderbirds are facing this season.
“We don’t have many kids this year,” he said before a recent practice at the Iola-Scandinavia Community Fitness & Aquatic Center. “Last year, we had 12, which was the lowest we ever had. This year, we were planning on 14, but we’re actually at 10 right now. We may not have a junior varsity team this year. Actually, with 10, it’s very unlikely that we will.”
That means the T-Birds’ younger players will see varsity action.
“Occasionally, we have freshmen and sophomores ready to participate at that level,” Wester said. “It puts us in an awkward and challenging situation to have kids that are really more suited to junior varsity because of their age and skill level. We have a challenging schedule, so there are going to be some games where we’re playing against some pretty experienced, veteran teams. That’s when we’re going to have to pull together and stick to the plan to create a positive experience.”
I-S open the season Nov. 15 against Wild Rose.
The T-Birds have to replace three seniors – Kayla Ellioff, Lexi Hitchcock and Baleigh Fuhs – from a team that posted a 9-14 overall record and placed sixth in the Central Wisconsin 8 Conference with a 4-10 mark.
Returning players include senior Leighten Fischer, a first-team all-conference selection who averaged 17.9 points a game as a junior; senior Kendall Johnson, last year’s starting point guard; and juniors Mia Wandtke and Erika Kisting.
“We’re excited to have Leighten back,” Wester said. “She’s a team leader and a great athlete, one of the best athletes we’ve had here. We’ve had a lot of them over the years and she’s right up there. We’re looking forward to Kendall’s leadership and skill level on the floor. We have two really nice guards there to lead our team. Mia played a lot for us last year as a sophomore. She’s a strong kid who worked on her game. Erika’s a hard-working young lady who’s done really well in cross country and track. Basketball-wise, she still competes with that same spirit that allows her to be successful.”
The T-Birds will also tune up for CWC-8 teams by hosting Westfield at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18. The CWC-8 opener is Monday, Nov. 28, at Amherst.
“Those nonconference games give us a chance to learn a lot,” Wester said. “It’s not always easy to play on that first Tuesday with limited practice time, but Wild Rose will be in the same situation. Not everything will be there on that first night, but we’ll grow from that experience.”
Wester expects Wittenberg-Birnamwood to contend for a conference championship with Shiocton and Amherst.
“We’ve been in this league for quite a while now and there are challenges every night,” Wester said. “I guess the big thing for us is to stay positive and work together to develop our players. We need our other players to develop that scorers’ mentality. We obviously can’t afford to lose any of our key upperclassmen,” he added. “We’re hoping to build around them and provide opportunity for our younger players.”
The T-Birds will have to provide those opportunities with a shorthanded roster.
“We’ve have years where we’ve had 30 kids, we’ve had years where we’ve had 20,” Wester said. “We’ve had our ups and downs, but it’s about the kids learning all kind of things, even things not related to basketball.”
Iola-Scandinavia Girls’ Basketball
• Tuesday, Nov. 15 – vs. Wild Rose, 7:30 p.m.
• Friday, Nov. 18 – vs. Westfield, 7:30 p.m.
• Monday, Nov. 28 – vs. Amherst, 7:30 p.m.
• Friday, Dec. 2 – at Manawa, 7:30 p.m.
• Friday, Dec. 9 – vs. Weyauwega-Fremont, 7:30 p.m.
• Tuesday, Dec. 13 – at Bonduel, 7:30 p.m.
• Tuesday, Dec. 20 – vs. Wittenberg-Birnamwood, 7:30 p.m.
• Thursday, Dec. 22 – at St. Mary Catholic, 7:30 p.m.
• Tuesday, Dec. 27 – at Tri-County Invitational, 2:30 p.m.
• Wednesday, Dec. 28 – at Tri-County Invitational, 2:30 p.m.
• Tuesday, Jan. 3 – vs. Rosholt, 6 p.m.
• Friday, Jan. 6 – at Marion, 7:30 p.m.
• Tuesday, Jan. 10 – at Pacelli, 7:30 p.m.
• Thursday, Jan. 12 – vs. Auburndale, 7:30 p.m.
• Tuesday, Jan. 17 – vs. Shiocton, 7:30 p.m.
• Tuesday, Jan. 24 – vs. Manawa, 7:30 p.m.
• Thursday, Jan. 26 – at Amherst, 7:30 p.m.
• Monday, Jan. 30 – at Weyauwega-Fremont, 7:30 p.m.
• Friday, Feb. 3 – vs. Bonduel, 7:30 p.m.
• Thursday, Feb. 9 – at Wittenberg-Birnamwood, 7:30 p.m.
• Tuesday, Feb. 14 – vs. Pacelli, 7:30 p.m.
• Thursday, Feb. 16 – at Shiocton, 7:30 p.m.