Lady Bulldogs basketball looking to catch up, win big

·5 min read
Inland Lakes guard Alyssa Byrne, left, is a senior and one of the key returning players for the Lady Bulldogs this basketball season.
Inland Lakes guard Alyssa Byrne, left, is a senior and one of the key returning players for the Lady Bulldogs this basketball season.

INDIAN RIVER — The wait almost felt like forever for Daryl Vizina.

Itching to get going in his second season, the Inland Lakes varsity girls basketball coach had a problem.

Most of his players were members of the volleyball team, which went on a magical run to the Division 4 state title game.

With only a few full practices held so far, Vizina knows it'll take some time for his group to find its footing in what he hopes will be a breakthrough season for the program.

"I think the beginning of the season is going to be a little rough just because of the volleyball events," said Vizina, who guided the Lady Bulldogs to an 8-7 record in his first campaign. "Every girl who's a full-time varsity player was on the volleyball team, so we were three weeks behind everyone as far as practices go. We might be a little slow from the start, but that's alright.

"It's not how we start, it's how we finish — and it's a long season."

As the Lady Bulldogs begin their campaign, they've come with up with a new motto that they hope will fuel them to success.

WIN: What's Important Now.

"I think a lot of the girls that played volleyball, (WIN) really became a thing for them when they would be down a set or two in the playoffs and come back and win," Vizina said. "'What's Important Now' to us means we're not worried about what happened last year or last game or even last play, it's what's important now. We need to stay focused on the moment. We want to — and we expect — to win our conference, we expect to win our regionals, we expect to win our district, but we can't think about those things now. We have to focus on what's important now, every moment of every practice, or in a game.

"That's kind of our mindset at this point."

In terms of key returnees, the Lady Bulldogs will be led by junior guard Natalie Wandrie, who had a strong sophomore campaign that featured All-Ski Valley Conference and All-Area accolades.

"She's (Wandrie) a great athlete, she letters in four sports, I think she was a state finalist in track. I mean, she's a great athlete, she's good at everything," Vizina said. "She's going to have a great season."

Senior guard/forward Olivia Monthei (34) also returns for the Inland Lakes varsity girls basketball team this season.
Senior guard/forward Olivia Monthei (34) also returns for the Inland Lakes varsity girls basketball team this season.

Joining Wandrie is senior guard/forward Olivia Monthei, a capable shooter who improved over the summer, as well as senior guard Alyssa Byrne, another solid scorer.

"She (Monthei) struggled at times last year, but she got COVID right at the beginning of the season, and I think by her own admission she had never really recovered from it," Vizina said. "She had an amazing summer. We played in a league in Boyne City, we played at a camp at (Lake Superior) State and there were a number of times — a lot of times — where she was the best player on the court. I expect her to have an amazing senior season.

"She's (Byrne) a great shooter, she's a great leader, she's very solid, she shows up every day on time, and she shows up to the things she doesn't need to be at. Alyssa is very consistent, works hard, smart. She does all the little things."

Also back are seniors Emily Van Daele and Megan Vigneau, a pair of players Vizina has lauded since practice started.

"Those two have had a great first few days of practice," Vizina said. "In fact, I pulled them aside and said I was very impressed with the steps they've taken since last year, so I expect both of them to be players that see a lot of minutes for us."

Returnees rounding out Inland Lakes are juniors Ryann Clancy and Hannah Robinson, two athletic and physical forwards Vizina is excited to watch.

"She (Clancy) is extremely physical, she's a great rebounder, and she hustles," Vizina said. "She's really emerged as the team's vocal leader. I expect her to probably get some recognition in the postseason.

"She's (Robinson) our best defender, she's probably pound for pound the best rebounder in Northern Michigan. She's kind of a dirty-work player, but everyone wants one of those. Dennis Rodman-like, I guess I would call her."

Overall, Vizina believes basketball IQ will be a strength for his squad, among other things.

"I think we're a smart team," Vizina said. "I can draw something on the board and the girls pick it up pretty quickly, which I appreciate that. We've got some really good shooters from the perimeter on our team. I think that's our strength. We got some hustlers, too. We got Ryann Clancy and Hannah Robinson, who just pound the glass, so I'd say those are our strengths."

Daryl Vizina is heading into his second season as Inland Lakes varsity girls basketball coach.
Daryl Vizina is heading into his second season as Inland Lakes varsity girls basketball coach.

While the Lady Bulldogs recorded a winning season last winter, they struggled to perform at their best in the biggest of games.

This season, they hope to improve — and defeat — many of the top opponents they'll collide with.

"I think we should be able to compete with everyone," Vizina said. "We did compete, but we could've won several of those games as well, but when you give up a 10-0 or 12-0 runs at certain points in games, that really hurts you. The other thing, too, is (our players) had a rookie coach, and we didn't get started until January 16, so we really didn't have time to put any things in, any summer camps, anything like that.

"I think the girls deserve a lot of credit because the year before, they were 15 games below .500 and then made a big jump to one game above .500, and our hope — if we focus on the moment and take care of business one moment at a time — is that we can make another similar jump this year."

This article originally appeared on Cheboygan Daily Tribune: Inland Lakes girls basketball team preview

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