There’s plenty of reasons for optimism surrounding the 2021-22 Great Plains Lutheran High School girls and boys basketball teams.
The Panthers definitely had a trying season in 2020-21, suffering through a couple of shutdowns due to COVID-19 issues.
Both teams ended up playing a number of games in short stretches and weren’t able to finish their entire schedule. GPL’s girls finished 2-12 and the boys 6-10.
“That’s something we hope resolves itself this year,” said Great Plains Lutheran head girls coach Matt Bauer. “We were really never in shape last year and it was just hard for us to get in a groove.”
Thoughts of “What Might Have Been?” may have been more prevalent for the Panther boys.
“We were definitely better than a 6-win team,” said GPL head boys coach Mike Haugly. “We’re focused on having a normal season this year, that’s our plan. We’ll deal with it if something happens, but this season definitely feels more normal.”
The Panther girls kicked off their season Friday with a 46-45 loss at Oldham-Ramona-Rutland and will also visit Leola-Frederick Area this week before playing Friday and Saturday in the Martin Luther College tournament at New Ulm, Minn.
GPL’s boys open their season Friday and Saturday in the Martin Luther tourney.
• Head Coach — Bauer, 6-30 in two seasons at GPL
• Assistants — Aaron Schleusener and Josh Higgins.
• 2020-21 Record — 2-12 overall, 0-5 in the Eastern Coteau Conference.
• Top Returnees — Mali York, 5-foot-10 senior guard (5.2 points per game); Bryn Holmen, 6-0 senior forward (8.1 ppg., 7.8 rebounds per game); Oliva Holmen, 6-1 sophomore forward (7.5 ppg., 6.6 rpg.); and Kim Goens, 5-6 junior guard (6.8 ppg.).
• Others to Watch — Halle Bauer, 5-3 sophomore guard; Briana Cordle, 5-10 junior forward; Madeline Prahl, 5-10 freshman forward and Esta Cameron, 5-7 freshman guard-forward.
• Conference/Region Teams to Watch — Bauer considers Florence-Henry the team to beat in the Eastern Coteau Conference that also includes Wilmot, Waubay-Summit, Tri-State and Waverly-South Shore.
The Panthers are moving up from Class B to Class A this winter and will play in Region 2A along with Deubrook Area, Deuel, Elkton-Lake Benton, Flandreau, Flandreau Indian School, Hamlin and Sioux Valley. Hamlin is the defending state Class A runner-up.
• Schedule — Great Plains Lutheran opened its season on Friday and has home games scheduled for Dec. 13 (Tri-State), Jan. 7 (Waubay-Summit), Jan. 13 (Castlewood), Jan. 17 (Clark-Willow Lake), Jan. 18 (Waverly-South Shore), Jan. 21 (Webster Area), Feb. 1 (Lake Preston), Feb. 4 (Wilmot) and Feb. 5 (Arlington).
The state Class A tournament is set for March 10-12 in Brookings.
• Season Outlook — The Panthers do return some experience and four out of five starters.
“We have a great group group of hard-working girls and senior leadership,” said Bauer.
“It kind of depends,” said Bauer when asked about what kind of season the Panthers will have. “We’re not terribly deep, but when I look at the schedule I do see a number of games we should be able to compete in. I’d like to think a .500 season would be a huge success, but that’s going to require us winning some close games.’
• Head Coach — Haugly, 21-46 in four seasons at GPL.
• Assistants — Aaron Swanson, Sam Kleinke and Mike Starr.
• 2020-21 Record — 6-10 overall, 2-3 in the Eastern Coteau Conference.
• Top Returnees — Sam Hansen, 6-foot-4 senior forward (15.9 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game); Ethan Kjenstad, 6-3 senior guard (10.6 ppg.); Connor Kannas, 5-11 senior guard (2.1 ppg.); Trent Lien, 5-10 senior forward (2.1 ppg.) and Gavin Dornbusch, 6-2 senior center (1.1 ppg.).
• Others to Watch — Joe Erickson, 6-1 senior forward; Alex Heil, 6-3 sophomore guard and Myles York, 6-3 sophomore center.
• Conference/Region Teams to Watch — Waubay-Summit, which advanced to a SoDak 16 Class B state-qualifying game is Haugly’s pick as the team to beat in the Eastern Coteau Conference. Florence-Henry, Waverly-South Shore, Tri-State and Wilmot also play in the league along with GPL.
The Panthers are moving up from Class B to Class A this winter and will play in Region 2A along with Deubrook Area, Deuel, Elkton-Lake Benton, Flandreau, Flandreau Indian School, Hamlin and Sioux Valley. Sioux Valley is the defending state Class A runner-up.
• Schedule — The Panthers have home games slated for Jan. 7 (Waubay-Summit), Waverly-South Shore (Jan. 18) , Feb. 1 (Lake Preston), Feb. 5 (Arlington), Feb. 8 (Deubrook Area), Feb. 15 (Oldham-Ramona-Rutland) and Feb. 25 (Wilmot).
The state Class A tournament will be played March 17-19 at Rapid City.
• Season Outlook — Six seniors return for the Panthers including four-year varsity performers Hansen and Kjenstad. The team did graduate Andrew Heil, who averaged 10.8 points per game last winter.
“We’ve got a mix of players coming back, including Ethan and Sam who are finishing my sentences by now,” said Haugly. “I’m relying on them to be the catalysts.
“We did graduate some important players and that’s going to create some opportunities for younger guys to step into some bigger roles.”
This article originally appeared on Watertown Public Opinion: Great Plains Lutheran Basketball: Panther teams have reasons for optimism in 2021-22