When junior high kids are pressed into service early, their first few weeks in varsity ball tend to go in one of two ways: Either the kids are a little timid and uncertain, tend to force things a bit, and…
When junior high kids are pressed into service early, their first few weeks in varsity ball tend to go in one of two ways: Either the kids are a little timid and uncertain, tend to force things a bit, and turn the ball over way too frequently or, alternatively, the precocious youngsters play a confident, carefree style, blend right in and quickly establish themselves as core members of the team. For the most part, Clay Ostad's crop of newcomers at Lake City are rolling along nicely on track two. On December 16 at the HVL-TRC Showdown in Rochester, Lake City's starting 8th graders demonstrated plenty of poise, skill and smarts on the way to a 67-34 victory over Southland.
Eighth graders Maya Shones and Natalie Bremer clearly have no idea how difficult varsity ball can be. They aren't the only youngsters playing key roles for Lake City, either. Grace Bany is a 9th grader starting at center. Starting point guard Morgan West, the most dynamic of the four, is only a sophomore. Another 8th grader – Southern Minnesota Fury guard Lilly Meincke – is also in the rotation and averaging nearly 5 points per game.
With just one senior at his disposal, Lake City Coach Clay Olstad has learned to be patient. “Practice is a lot of teaching,” said Olstad, whose team was 5-4 entering the Christmas break. “We've really got to focus on our fundamentals. We're working on basic defensive principles. On offense, we're just trying to make sure we are cutting and moving.”
Here's a rundown on Lake City's youngest talent.
Natalie Bremer – The 5'6″ guard is a slasher with good handles and quick feet who really knows how to take it to the hole. Bremer can shoot from significant distance and is averaging 13 points per game. When the Tigers need a big basket it is often Bremer who delivers. “She has been a consistent scorer all season and is playing really well for us,” Olstad said.
Mya Shones – A long, lanky wing, Shones may have the most potential on the team. The 6-footer, who also summers with Southern Minnesota Fury 2022, has solid fundamentals overall, including a very nice mid-range jump shot. Shones is a prolific shot blocker and a very vocal defender. “She brings a lot to the table,” Olstad said. “I really like how she plays the high post, and we have a nice high-low game with her and Grace Bany,” Olstad said. Shones is averaging 15 ppg.
Grace Bany – The 6'1″ freshman is a tremendous shot blocker with super long arms. Her rebounding is crucial to Lake City's success. Although Bany has decent mid-range capabilities, her preferred spot right now is on the low block. Grace is already averaging 11 points per game and will be dangerous when she becomes more versatile.
Morgan West – It's mandatory to report that West is tiny, perhaps 5'2″ if I am generous. She makes up for it with ultra-quick feet that can propel her past a defender and into the paint at a high rate of speed. The compact guard is Lake City's primary ball handler. She does a nice job of breaking the press, attacks the basket frequently and is very good from three-point distance. “She draws the defender well and will pass when she sees that or finish when she sees that,” Olstad said. West is averaging 8 ppg.
We have written at some length about the kids from St. Paul Como Park, where Coach Alexis Gray-Lawson is riding a 7th grader and three 8th graders, probably the youngest core of any team in the state. Lake City's lineup is not far behind. “These kids are doing a great job,” Olstad. “They're working their butts off for us and they're fun to coach.”