By Mike Monahan

MATTOON – For just the second time since the Lake Land women’s basketball team began fall practice Sept. 8 and includes 60 days of practices, the Lady Lakers held a scrimmage at Laker Field House. Among the four new faces is Kayla Sirjord (above), a transfer from Division II Bemidji State in Minnesota. 

“To avoid losing a year of eligibility I had to move from the NCAA for a year,” said Sirjord. “So my options were to NAIA or JUCO for my redshirt sophomore year. I decided to go the JUCO route in hopes of going back to the NCAA after this year.”

Sirjord is from Ulen, MInnesota, which is just two hours, 45 minutes from the Canadian border and 45 minutes from Fargo, North Dakota. 

Lake Land is her fourth school in two years.

So, how does a player from northern Minnesota end up at Lake Land?

“I was actually recruited by Parkland,” said Sirjord. “I was talking to them about the area and the conferences near there, and, after doing some more research, I saw Lake Land was No. 4 in the nation last year. So I emailed coach (Dave) Johnson and he emailed me right back, and we just connected really well right away.”

As for the scrimmages and workouts, Sirjord said, “I am just getting used to my now third college program. There are a lot of differences here from the four-year programs I played on. I am trying to get used to playing with all of the girls, who all know each other really well already. The season being pushed back by COVID will work in our favor.”

Sirjord, a 5-foot-6 guard, first went to the University of Minnesota-Crookston and then to Bemidji State. 

Lake Land finished 30-3 and reached the NJCAA Division II national tournament as the No 4 seeded team. The tournament, though, was canceled a week before it would have started due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Before we started Sept. 8, we were not able to do anything as a team because of all the COVID regulations that were involved,” said Harley Barry, a Shiloh grad and former player for Tri-County. “The gym was being redone and so that pushed it (working out in the gym) even farther.”

Ten players are back from last season. 

“Last year, there were only three sophomores and the rest of us were freshmen,” said Barry. “I feel like that will help us better during the season because it gives us an advantage because we have so many returning players. Usually on a team in college, you don’t have that many (sophomores). I think it will turn into our favor.”

Barry and her teammates are glad to be back together at the Laker Field House.

“We were all anxiously waiting patiently to get back together, and now that we are we are together all of the time. We were all ready to get back into the gym and start working out as a team again.”

The players avoid talking about not playing for the national tournament.

“Honestly, it is very upsetting because we could have gone so far and we were expected to do well,” said Barry. “We have not talked about it much since we started up again. I think it is just because we have put it behind us. It was such a surprise on it happening. We were all super excited about it and picking out our dresses to go to the (national tournament) banquet and we were going to have a lot of fun. You never know what to expect.”

The scrimmage, broadcast on BoxCast TV, was played like a normal game, pitting the Black team (Barry, Kamaria Gant, Tre’soir Newson, Shania Schoonover, Mya Tinsley and Sirjord) against the Grey team (Karrington Krabel, Jae Lynn Riggleman, Olivia Niemerg, JoAnna Schultz, Josie Orris, Elizabeth Buescher and Avery Still). The Black team won, 73-69. 

The Black team led 39-28 at the half and increased the lead to as much as 17 points before the Grey team rallied back and trailed by just six going into the fourth quarter (53-47). The game was deadlocked at 67 with 1:49 left when Newsom scored four straight points and five of the last six for the Black team, including two on a layup. Barry got a steal and Sirjord made one of two free throws for a 72-67 lead. 

“In the last minute, coach either has someone curl or the person throwing the ball in-bounds cuts to the basket,” said Barry. “I was expecting a shooter to come out and I kind of watched. And someone was curling and two people were setting a screen and so I was like ‘okay, it is definitely going over here.’ So I just stepped in front of the pass and got the steal.”

Krabel scored 21 points, while Riggleman, a Casey-Westfield grad, had 12 points on four 3-pointers for the Grey, while Buescher also netted 12 and Still had 10 points. 

For the Black squad, Grant led the way with 25 points, while Newsome had 17. 

Still, a Sullivan grad who is 5-11, said of the wait, “With all of this COVID, it kind of sucks, but, like Kayla said, I think it will work out in our favor. We have been working really hard. Coach Johnson has been pushing us and I think we will be good.”

Still said she is still adjusting to the pace of the college game.

“High school is definitely a lot slower and I could do a lot more,” Still said. “In college, it is so fast. Karrington (Krabel) and Olivia (Niemerg) played at a fast-paced level in high school and that helps them. I will get there at some point and it also comes with getting back into shape.”

The start of practice was a little unusual for Still. 

“It was kind of awkward not knowing each other,” said Still. “There are only three of us freshmen and 10 sophomores and they have already played together so they know each other’s weaknesses and strengths, while we are still trying to bond as a team. But we will get there.”

Still and Orris, a sophomore, were teammates at Sullivan for three years. 

“I am so glad to be playing with her again,” said Still. “We are pretty good buddies. It is exciting to be able to play with her again.”

One freshman who has healed almost completely from an injury before the regional tournament last year is Paris grad Karrington Krabel, a guard. 

“I had a fractured right ankle and torn meniscus at the end of my senior year,” said Krabel. “I am getting there (to 100 percent). I was walking two days after surgery, and it took six to seven weeks of recovery with therapy afterwards.”

Krabel was a third-team All-State selection by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association last season. 

“It is getting to know every single person on the team and what their strong suits are so we can push them to work on their weaknesses to make them stronger,” said Krabel. “Over the summer it was kind of our job to get in somewhere or outside to put in extra work.”

The pace of the college game has not been a problem for Krabel. 

“My high school team pushed the ball and were constantly working on that,” said Krabel.

Note: Lake Land will play a scrimmage at 12:50 p.m. on Sunday that can also be watched via a live-stream at Boxcast TV.