Knights hold off Mountaineers
By RON DEUTER
NORWAY – Rachel Conery scored a game-high 14 points and Jacey Bal added 10 more, as Norway posted a 44-33 Mid-Peninsula Conference win over Iron Mountain Tuesday in the season opener for both teams.
Playing basketball inside the newly renovated Norway gym for the first time, the Knights opened a 10-2 lead after the first quarter against the turnover-prone Mountaineers and never trailed, despite shooting just 25 percent for the game and committing 26 fouls.
Norway fired 70 shots in the game, hitting 18, going 4-for-25 from 3-point range against the Mountaineers zone defense.
“Obviously our shooting needs some work,” Knights coach Carli Kelly said. “We had a lot shots, and eventually they will fall when we get into more of a rhythm and get more comfortable.”
Shooting aside, Kelly was probably more concerned about the fouls. Starter Brenda Casanova was the first to get in trouble there, forced to sit most of the middle two quarters after racking up three in the first frame.
“She gets in a foul trouble and it forces us to change what we’re doing defensively,” Kelly said. “She’s like a gnat out there, all over the place offensively and defensively.”
“We didn’t box out well enough. If we did that better, we wouldn’t have had as many fouls.”
Thankfully for Norway, Iron Mountain struggled at the line. The Mountaineers made 12-of-35 at the stripe, hurting their chances of closing in all the way on Norway.
Alyssa Khor’s eights points led the Mountaineers, but Iron Mountain didn’t hit its first field goal until the six minute mark of the second quarter. The Mountaineers, a very inexperienced group at the varsity level, couldn’t match Norway’s pace in the first quarter and committed 19 of their 30 turnovers during the game’s first eight minutes.
“I knew it would be shaky in the beginning,” said Iron Mountain coach Ginger Moore, who made her varsity coaching debut. “We’re not used to the speed. But we recovered really well.”
The Mountaineers turned the tables on Norway in the second quarter, as buckets by Khor, Alena Herman, Elli McCole, Vita Hill and Cassie Feira brought them as close as three points of the Knights on two occasions and down just four at the break. But Iron Mountain couldn’t get any closer.
The Knights opened the second half with consecutive baskets, getting a short jumper from Leah Mattson and runner by Conery. A couple of threes by Bal also helped keep the Mountaineers at bay late in third and again in the fourth.
Casanova finished with eight points, hitting a couple of fourth quarter shots. Ashley Zanon pulled down 10 boards.
“We came out with a ‘W’, so being the first game of the season, I’m not as concerned with how we played as long as we got the win,” Kelly said.
Herman and McCole each had five points for Iron Mountain. The Mountaineers out rebounded Norway 56 to 43, getting 12 from Herman and 10 each from McCole and Marti Pirkola.
“After the rough start, I felt they found their rhythm,” Moore said. “They’ve got pride, they’re being aggressive. They’re trying to compete, and that’s all I can ask for right now.”
Norway has nine players on its roster, three seniors and six juniors. Casanova, Mattson and Conery are returning starters. Bal and Lindsey DeBernardi both some late-season varsity action last year. Senior Melanie Kurth has returned after hurting her knee just a couple of games into the season last year. Newcomers include Juniors Logan Devine, Zanon and Brooke Teafoe.
“We’re taking it one step at time,” Kelly said. “There’s much more to learn. We need a little more time to gain experience and knowledge, but it’ll come.”
Norway went 10-10 last season, bowing in a district semifinal to the Mountaineers. The team’s losses to graduation included All-U.P. first team guard Bailey Grayvold as well as Heather Evosevich and Shelby Matonich.
“We have four posts, some with size,” Kelly said of the strengths of this year’s group. “I’m hoping they can give us something. We’ll get there eventually.”
Iron Mountain’s 10-player squad is basically fresh to the varsity level. Gendron, McCole and Herman saw varying amounts of limited varsity time last season, but none were regular starters.
“With really very little varsity experience, we’ve been spending the first weeks of practice focussed on the fundamentals,” Moore said. “We’ve worked a ton on ball handling, pass, catching – trying to limit those turnovers.”
Moore said keeping it basic will be key for the Mountaineers through the early going.
“We’re not going to have a bunch of set plays,” she said. “We’re going to learn how to play this game. We’re going to play this game together, and we might take our lumps in the beginning.
“Our goal is to improve every game. We are a lot better team than we were during the summer camp, and this has been a fantastic group to work with.”
The Mountaineers went 5-16 last season, advancing to the district final. Losses to graduation were Katelynn Johnson, Abby Gerhard, Morgan Bujold, Sarah Pirkola and Sarah Girard.
With such a green roster, Moore knows it will take time for the team to come together.
“I don’t know how many games we’re going to win, Moore said. “But I know we’re going to get better. We’re just not a really skilled team at this point. You just can’t get through all of it in three weeks of practices. It will take time.
“But this group is looking to get better. They have great attitudes and are willing to work. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I have a lot of confidence in this group and I’m optimistic.”
IM’s jayvee team, led by Katie Brule’s 19 points, downed Norway 36-32. Brian Waitrovich, once again, has command of the Mountaineers’ jayvees. Kevin Kangas has also returned to lead the Norway JV team.
Norway returns to action Monday at Kingsford. Iron Mountain goes to Houghton Friday.
SENIOR – Kristen Gendron, Elli McCole, Abby Ketcham.
JUNIOR – Alyssa Khor, Hanah Braden, Brianna Geyser, Alena Herman, Cassie Feira, Vita Hill, Marti Pirkola.
HEAD COACH: Ginger Moore.
ASSISTANTS: Brian Waitrovich, Kelly Evosevich-Paupore.
SENIOR – Leah Mattson, Melanie Kurth, Rachel Conery.
JUNIOR – Brenda Casanova, Lindsey DeBernardi, Jacey Bal, Logan Devine, Ashley Zanon, Brooke Teafoe.
HEAD COACH: Carli Kelly.
ASSISTANT: Kevin Kangas.