By Kelly Fenton, The Denmark News
It’s hard to argue that girls’ basketball in the Northeastern Conference isn’t way out of
balance. Last season, four schools dominated, with conference wins totals ranging from 13 to 16. Four others managed six or fewer victories.
And then there was Fox Valley Lutheran and Denmark taking up residence right in the median range. Fox Valley went 10-8 and Denmark went 9-9 to finish sixth.
It’s likely to be fairly top-heavy again as the 2017-18 season gets under way on Nov. 14. Wrightstown graduated four of its starters after capturing the league crown a year ago at 16-2. But Denmark coach Kory Fredrickson is under no illusion that the Tigers won’t be right back among the contenders this winter. And runner-up Luxemburg-Casco returns its top four scorers, including Green Bay commit Cassie Schiltz, who poured in 22 points a game.
Freedom, which tied for second, loses top scorer Makenna House (20.2) but Fredrickson says the Irish are always in the process of reloading. And Little Chute (fourth last season at 13-5) graduated its top scorer, but returns its next three off a team that featured plenty of balance. Fox Valley Lutheran brings back five of its top six scorers so look for them to be right in the thick of things again.
For another example of just how top-heavy things were last year, consider that while Denmark (11-13 overall) outscored its opponents by fewer than three a game – suggesting a lot of tight contests — only four of those games were actually decided by single digits. And most were lopsided in either direction.
So what can the Vikings expect this season? There are a lot of question marks, what with the loss of three of their top four scorers, including their leading points producer, Ashley Leiterman (10.6 ppg; 6.1 rebounds). Denmark graduated about half of their scoring and rebounding off that team, and will count on senior Jayden Laurent, a four-sport phenom who figures to be a factor all over the court this winter.
“She’s a phenomenal athlete,” says Fredrickson of the 5-7 power forward who chipped in 10.4 points, and snagged 4.4 rebounds and 3.8 steals last season. “She is always the quickest player on the court.”
That quickness accounts for all those steals. Fredrickson says Laurent possesses the rare combination of anticipation and reaction.
“She sees what’s going on and also has the speed to get to the ball,” he said.
Laurent had 90 steals, nearly 20 better than the conference’s second-best ball hawk.
Among other top returners are Hannah Miller and Clair Sipple, who combined to average nearly 10 points a game. Both are tops among the Vikings’ three-point shooters, with each knocking down about a third of their attempts.
Lakin Derricks (5-6 junior) contributed 3.0 points last season. She’ll run the point.
“She saw a lot of varsity action as a sophomore, so she’s used to the pace of the varsity game,” Fredrickson said. “She’s a bigger point guard so that gives her an advantage.”
Also back are a pair of seniors who saw limited action: Taylor Wochenske (9 minutes a game) and Abby Chada (5.5 mpg). Wochenske at 5-9 and Chada at 5-7 will vie for the five spot, though Fredrickson said they could both see action at the same time. Volleyball players Abigail O’Brien, a junior, and sophomore Abby Maricque, might also fit into the rotation. Maricque would be among the tallest on the roster at 5-10.
Fredrickson will count on a variety of zone defenses to keep opponents off balance, incorporating as many as a half-dozen. Laurent, who can create havoc, played on the bottom of the zone last year, but as one of the taller players this season, she may be up top, where she can more easily disrupt the offensive
“One of the nice things is Lakin, Hannah and Claire all have the ability to play defense in the post and to rebound,” Fredrickson said.
The Vikings would appear to have at this early stage a solid six-girl rotation, with others having the potential to contribute. As for the intangibles, it may be the doggedness and determination of Laurent, who is not only quick, but fierce, possessing the athleticism and the fire to take it to the basket almost any time she wants.
“She is quick enough to get into the lane and then strong enough that not many defenders can stop her,” Fredrickson said. “Even if there’s contact there’s a good chance the shot will go in. It really takes two players to stop her inside.”
Laurent, who is coming off volleyball as well as a national youth wrestling title in North Carolina, said she’s ready to take on the challenge.
“I know we lost a lot of good seniors and I have to try to fill their shoes,” she said. “It’s a new role and I’m looking forward to it.”
Denmark opens at Roncalli High School in Manitowoc on Nov. 14 at 7:15. The Vikings’ home opener is Nov. 18 when they host Valders at 7:15.