Dreaming of summer at Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted
As I watched Erin Lamb and the Stewartville Tigers on Wednesday afternoon at the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted holiday tournament, all I could think about was next summer. No, my mind wasn't wandering to a sunny day in July because it was…
As I watched Erin Lamb and the Stewartville Tigers on Wednesday afternoon at the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted holiday tournament, all I could think about was next summer. No, my mind wasn't wandering to a sunny day in July because it was 50 below outside. I was actually thinking about the 2018 AAU season when we will find out just how good Ms. Lamb really is. Now in her second season of high school basketball, the 6'2″ forward appears worthy of a top 10 ranking in the Class of 2021. What we don't know is if all of that potential will be realized against the bigger, stronger, more experienced foes in top-tier AAU events.
For players like Erin Lamb, AAU means everything. It's not that the high school season is unimportant. Despite Stewartville's 46-43 loss to Holy Family on Wednesday, I'm certain Erin is enjoying the 8-2 Tigers' run of success with her friends. It's just that AAU ball is where the rubber hits the road, where kids from smaller schools who face less-strenuous competition all winter have to step it up and show what they can do against the best. It's also an opportunity for us observers to confirm if Lamb is as good as we think she is.
“The best way to describe Erin's game is probably smooth, versatile and fearless,” said Stewartville coach Ryan Liffrig. “To step in as an 8th grader, and now a 9th grader, and have no fear is crucial to success. She is full of confidence, and her biggest attribute is her ability to score from anywhere on the court and play almost any position on the offensive end. She is also a natural shot blocker and an above-average rebounder. “
Without a doubt, Lamb's greatest asset is her shot. In my opinion – one shared by many others – there is nobody in Minnesota girl's basketball who shoots the ball better. Her form is pure. I mean, you could use Lamb's highlight reel as an instructional video. The ball just floats off her fingers, spinning perfectly, and resulting in a two- or three-point basket more than half the time. It's just beautiful.
As an 8th grader, Lamb averaged in the mid-20s per game. Although she sometimes finishes at the rim, her most potent weapon is the jump shot. As the accompanying photo illustrates, Lamb uses her height, length and and vertical to elevate over defenders with ease, earning a clean look at the basket more often than not. We're not just talking about 5'9″ defenders, either. In a game last winter against Byron's 6'6″ Ayoka Lee (Kansas State), Lamb scored 29. Last week she had 26 against Lee.
Holy Family's Julia Guers turns in her best performance
In Wednesday's game at Howard Lake it was not so easy, as 6-foot junior Julie Geurs of Holy Family did an outstanding job using her more-than-ample length to neutralize Lamb's effectiveness. Lamb was rarely open, and the absence of Stewartville's second-leading scorer Lily Welch (mono) made it easier for Holy Family to execute the double-team. The score sheet says Lamb was 4 of 14 (1 of 5 from three) but that's misleading. On at least four of those misses – including two decent 3-point looks to tie the game in the final 30 seconds – Lamb was clearly (loudly and clearly!) fouled. She still scored 16 points, had 9 rebounds, and blocked 7 shots while playing all 36 minutes. Freshman guard Maia Peterson also had 16 for Stewartville. Guers was 15 & 7, turning in a grade A performance. Junior Leigh Steiner had 10 for the Fire, who won their fourth straight and improved to 8-3.
It was clear from the outset that Holy Family coach Ellen Thompson had done her homework on Stewartville, although it's not easy to game plan for a player like Lamb. “The best part about Erin is that she is so versatile,” Liffrig said. “We will put her in the screen-and-roll game and she can pop for a three or roll to the hoop. Erin also helps us bust through a press with her length and ball handling ability. One of our goals this year is that she play every position in our offense to make it harder on defenses.”
What inquiring minds want to know is can she do all of this on a sweltering court in North Carolina in front of 50 Division 1 coaches while being guarded by uber-athletic defenders with offers from Maryland and Baylor in their back pockets? Although her build is similar to more proven players such as Kallie Theisen of Wayzata (#1 among 2019s) and Carly Krsul of Armstrong (#12), Lamb has not had the opportunity yet against top-quality talent to show that she can crash to the basket to score, pound the boards for difficult rebounds, or get up off the floor from a hard body blow and calmly knock down the ensuing free throws.
That's why Erin and her family decided it was time to move from the Southern Minnesota Fury, which tends to play in weaker tournament pools, to Fury 2021 Blue where she'll encounter the best of the best on a regular basis, including freshmen with 4A credentials. Can she handle Cooper's Kierra Wheeler down low? Can she launch precision shots over Roseville's 6'3″ center Tamia Ugass? Can she still score consistently like Jenna Johnson (#6) has already done at Wayzata? We'll know soon enough. One thing we know now is this: Erin Lamb is a great kid with a terrific personality and a ton of potential. She's having fun and feeling good about the future. “She definitely has a goofy side!” Liffrig said. “She means a lot to our team and is a better kid than she is as a player.”
One more item of note: We hear Erin Lamb could be a better at volleyball than basketball, which may render this entire discussion moot.
And tonight's hometown hero is… C.J. Decker
Things didn't go quite according to plan for the hosts from Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted on Wednesday. The Lakers struggled during most of their game with Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, and trailed by double figures in the first half. In the second, the hosts made a game of it but it looked to be too little, too late. Except it wasn't.
With just 8 seconds remaining, sophomore C.J. Decker launched an off-balance three from traffic that landed, bringing the Lakers within one. They fouled immediately and at the 4.7-second mark, WEM made both free throws to secure a three-point margin. On the inbounds play, the Bucs gave Decker a little too much room to get free and she wasted no time sprinting up the court and hitting a step-back three at the buzzer. Overtime.
Decker, an athletic point guard who plays for North Tartan 2020 West, made one more trey in the extra period, but it still came down to the wire as junior Alexa Schumann scored on a chaotic put-back in the final five seconds, enabling HLWW to steal an improbable 68-67 win.