New group of leaders hopes to keep Bulldogs at top of the conference

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Members of the MFL MarMac girls basketball team include (front, left to right) Kaitlin Picha, Riley Moreland, Mallory Lang; (middle) Ashley Shaw, Miranda Lang, Lakota Morrissey, Makayla Morrissey; (back) manager Shelby Mielke, Carlie Jones, Caydence Moon, Brooke Gillitzer, Kayden Gillitzer, Mackenzy Ruff, Grace Anderson, Brooklynn Moon, Hannah Bogdonovich and manager Abby Schellhorn. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

After losing seven seniors—most of whom started or saw significant playing time a year ago—the back-to-back Upper Iowa Conference champion MFL MarMac girls basketball team is looking to reload.

“We’ve got a lot of girls who have gotten some quality minutes at the varsity level,” said head coach Jason Winter. “This year, they’re just going to have to play more minutes and be relied upon a lot more than last year.”

That includes senior Kayden Gillitzer and juniors Miranda Lang, Lakota Morrissey and Riley Moreland. The last two are coming off injuries.

“Hopefully we can rely on [Morrissey],” Winter said, “and Riley is healthy right now. We haven’t had a healthy year out of her in two years. She had a great freshman year, but even then, she had some hand issues. Last year, she probably missed two-thirds of the season. We’re hoping she can step up because she’s a big part of what we want to do.”

Sophomore Grace Anderson, who played some big minutes last season when the Bulldogs were short-handed, will also factor in, as will Mackenzy Ruff, who joins Gillitzer as the only other senior on the team. Winter hopes Ruff can step up like Rachel Davis did a season ago.

“[Davis] was under the radar, had a good summer and came into her own her senior year and ended up being a first-team all-conference player. That can happen,” he explained. 

Aside from Anderson, Winter said some other sophomores, and even a freshman, could be in the mix for playing time too.

“There’s talent here,” he stressed. “We might just have to work and cultivate that talent a little more than what we had to in the past. Maybe break stuff down a little bit more.”

The team may also change up its style of play a bit.

“I like to get up and down and be in your face, full court, baseline to baseline,” Winter said. “We still want to incorporate a lot of that, but, depending on how a game goes and who we’re playing, we might have to back it off and do more of a half-court set. Slow the game down.”

The team won’t have as much depth as previous seasons, so players may have to limit some of that “in your face” defense in order to stay out of foul trouble.

“I don’t know how deep we’re going to be able to go” the coach admitted. “The past couple years, we’ve been spoiled. I think we had enough kids to field two pretty competitive Upper Iowa Conference teams and have both teams finish in the top half pretty easy. This year, I don’t know I could say that. But we’ve got a team who can compete to be in the upper half of the Upper Iowa Conference.”

The Bulldogs work hard and have a good attitude, which Winter said are team strengths. Although not big, his players are also athletic. 

“And I’m hoping we can be a good shooting team from the perimeter,” he added.

Winter is still determining other strengths as he gets to know this year’s team. Unfortunately, that’s been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time since he’s coached with the district, the girls were unable to work together in the spring and summer.

“It hurt us,” Winter said. “We were able to kind of get together the last week in July, a couple weeks before volleyball started. We had good turnout, which I’m happy with, but you’re only talking a couple weeks. We normally go and play in a couple leagues over the summer and go to a team camp here and there. We weren’t able to do any of that stuff. So, for the girls who were just coming up as freshmen, and for the girls who are sophomores and juniors who we are expecting a little more from, it would’ve been nice to get them in and use to what varsity basketball is all about. That would’ve helped us out a little bit.” 

On the other hand, some area schools, including one of the Upper Iowa Conference favorites, North Fayette Valley, were able to play a lot over the summer. Winter said that risk/reward remains to be seen. Ultimately, remaining injury free—and COVID-19 free—will be the biggest factor.

Additionally, the team needs to stay positive. MFL MarMac’s first two games—one against another conference favorite, Turkey Valley, then one at Waukon—will be tough. Overall, the UIC is also a step better from top to bottom, Winter noted.

“I think all our games this year are going to be pretty tough,” he said. “We’ve got to stay with the process and keep working. Hopefully, by the end of the season, we’re gelling.”

“If things go our way, and we can stay injury free and who knows with COVID, anything can happen this year,” he added. “We’ve got the target on our back until someone knocks us off—we’re still the conference champs. We’re not going to concede anything. We’re going to work our tails off. We expect to be in the mix at the end of the year.”

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