Park girls basketball: Wolfpack wows to start seasonFresh off a 20-9 season and with expectations high this winter, the Park girls basketball team started the season 2-0 with a pair of lopsided wins.
By: Patrick Johnson, sports editor, South Washington County Bulletin
Park head coach Stephanie Tolkinen didn’t say it was a statement, rather just a good start.
Fresh off a 20-9 season and with expectations high this winter, the Park girls basketball team started the season 2-0 with a pair of lopsided wins. The Wolfpack opened the year with a 74-20 win over Henry Sibley on Tuesday, Nov. 27, followed by a 76-46 win over Pine Island in the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic on Saturday.
“I was happy with the kids’ effort and how they played together on the court,” Tolkinen said, “I felt like they talked more than we have in the past and felt like we’re finding kids who blend in, who can play together and who can trust each other.”
In the two non-conference blowouts, Park (2-0) outscored its opponents by a combined 84 points, while averaging 75 points per game. As impressive as the offense was, Tolkinen was even happier about the Wolfpack’s defense, especially against Pine Island.
“I think the kids really stepped up to the challenge,” Tolkinen said. “It was our defense that led to a lot of the transition offense. You saw some fantastic defense out there. They were really tuned in. Pine Island didn’t know what hit them.”
In the season opener at Henry Sibley (0-2), Park opened up a 38-9 halftime lead on the Warriors on the way to the rout. Ten different players scored for Park in the game. Junior guard Sydney Lamberty — the Wolfpack’s leading scorer last year — led the way with a game-high 23 points, outscoring the Warriors on her own. Senior guard Larissa Lurken scored 13 points and junior forward Temi Ogunrinde had 10 points. In addition Mallorie Briggs and Carlie Williams each chipped in six points.
“They’re in a bit of a rebuilding process over there,” Tolkinen said. “We weren’t sure what to expect from them. I don’t want to be overly critical of our kids, but we found a few things we need to work on. We told them to enjoy that win, because it wasn’t going to get any easier from here on out.”
In the win over Pine Island – which was 26-3 last year and is ranked fourth in Class AA this season – Park jumped out to an early lead, extended it to 45-22 at the half and cruised to victory. Lurken led the way for the Wolfpack with a game-high 31 points, which included six 3-pointers and a 21-point first half.
“She was just on fire,” Tolkinen said of Lurken, who committed to play Division 1 basketball at Kent State two weeks ago. “She shot extremely well and played a great game.”
The game was held at Hopkins High School and was the first of the invite-only Breakdown Tip-Off Classic.
In addition to Lurken, Lamberty matched her point total from the previous game with 23. Senior center Courtney Waldo added eight points for the Wolfpack. Nikki Fokken led Pine Island (1-1) with 19 points.
“Even though Sydney and Larissa are leading the box scores, other kids are settling in and figuring out where their opportunities are,” Tolkinen said. “They’re figuring out their roles and understanding when they have scoring opportunities they need to take them. That’s only going to improve as the season goes along I think.”
Tolkinen said Waldo exemplified the lunch-pail attitude she feels the team needs this season.
“Courtney played super hard in the paint,” Tolkinen said. “She was scoring, she was getting rebounds and she was doing a lot of work in there. I thought she did a super nice job.”
Things get fun this week for the Wolfpack. Park took on section foe Apple Valley on Tuesday after the Bulletin went to print. Park beat the Eagles twice last season, but by only a combined 11 points. Park then holds its home opener on Friday against No. 2-ranked Eastview. The Lightning ended Park’s season in last year’s Section 3AAA championship game, 52-47, and are expected to likely stand in the way of the Wolfpack’s hopes of a state tournament appearance again this season.
“That’s just going to be a really, really good test for us,” Tolkinen said. “Eastview is one of the top teams in the state and they’re playing very, very well. I think it’s going to be quite a contest. I imagine their kids are anticipating it and I know our kids are anticipating it. It’ll be a lot of fun.”