By Mike Monahan
Lake Land coach Dave Johnson understands his team has a target on their back.
He would expect little else after winning the 2021 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II National Championship and opening the season ranked No. 1.
“It puts pressure on us,” said Johnson. “We are everybody’s target, for sure. It will be good to get everybody’s best shot before we enter the post season.”
The team has since fallen to No. 4 after a 76-70 loss to North Arkansas two weeks ago.
“It was a nice honor,” Johnson said. “I told the kids this week, now we are No. 4 and when we were No. 1 it was based on last year, but No. 4 is probably where we should be.”
The Lakers defeated Southwestern College 75-61 in their first home game since earning the national title. SWIC dropped to 2-4.
This year’s team is even more guard-oriented. “We have to take easy baskets in transition,” Johnson said, “and get back and identify the shooter.”
Johnson says his players are developing strong defensive skills.
“So far, we have shot the 3-pointer fairly well,” said Johnson whose team is second in the nation with an average of 10.8 three-pointers per game. “We are still learning how to run or offense. We still take a lot of quick shots. We need to get later in the shot clock. We are young in decision-making.”
Gone from last season’s 24-2 team that won the national title 53-49 over Johnson County Community College are Joanna Schultz, Harley Barry, Kamaria Gant (second team All-American), Tresoir Newson, Amber Weiss, Jaeylynn Riggleman, Shania Schoonover, Josie Orris, Mya Tinsley and Elizabeth Buescher, a Charleston grad.
Returning players include Avery Still, Olivia Niemerg and Mikayla Sirjord.
“It is a benefit to have three sophomores who obviously know what we are trying to do,” said Johnson, last season’s Division II Coach of the Year. “Even though they are sophomores, they are playing a different role than they did when they were freshmen. We are quite a ways from where we need to be in terms of both ends of the floor.”
The sophomores are the captains.
“We don’t do a lot with the captains,” said Johnson. “They have leadership in terms of they have plays figured out and how to fit in roles and everything like that.”.
The freshmen are Taylor Barber, Tayler Barry, Mackenzie Bowles, Chloe Custis, Lexi Niebrugge, Taylor Orris, Kylee Phillips, Marissa Russo, Joslyn Spears and Ali Watson.
The freshmen are trying to figure out the level of play and speed of the game,” said Johnson. “Eventually, they are going to because things slow down and they will become more comfortable playing at this level.
Johnson, who has a career 491-252 record in 23 seasons, had previously earned two other national tournament berths. He is assisted by both J.R. Hodges, in his 13th season, and Tom Titus, in his 15th season.
While last year’s practices with a predominately sophomore team were easy this year’s is different with a mainly freshmen team.
“Practices are not easy for me this year,” said Johnson. “There is a lot more stopping of action. I had it easy last year with the group of sophomores they did exactly what we wanted. They disciplined themselves in aspect of knowing what I wanted and what I was trying to accomplish.”
There were 22 regular season games last year instead of 30 due to COVID-19.
“I know for the sophomores last season they had so many practices (started in November with practices and the season didn’t start until January) before the first game,” said Johnson. “This year is different (back to the normal schedule).
“We are slightly bigger than we were last year, ” said Johnson. “We are very flexible on the outside shooting and we may not be quite as good off the dribble as we were last year.
This season started off with a 77-41 win over Crowder College, followed by the only loss, a 76-70 overtime loss to North Arkansas. The Lakers have since defeated Triton College 75-63 and Moraine Valley 74-56.
“We have been solid on taking away the three-pointer,” said Johnson, of his defense that allows an average of 59 points per game, while the offense scores an average of 74.
Lake Land is fourth in the nation in free-throw shooting at 75 percent.
“Our free throws are solid,” said Johnson. “I would like to see us make the extra pass more. We are kind of not seeing the court well right now or making the extra pass. The freshmen are not comfortable doing the offense yet. I do think this team is capable of more points with the ability to shoot the ball and we have a lot of good kids with one-on-one skills.”
Johnson said the defense is not bad.
“We are working on communication and being better prepared,” said Johnson. “We are not using our scouting report as well as we should.”
Through three games, Lake land is ranked second nationally for 3-pointers with an average of 10.8.
Three players average in double digits with Tayler Barry leading the way at 17.7 points per game. Tayler is the sister of last season’s Harley Barry, the National Tournament MVP. Lexi Niebrugge averages 14.3 and Spears is at 12.3.
“We will be a deep team, I think eventually, and deeper with some freshmen trying to catch up and get more comfortable in game situations.”
Johnson says the team has one goal – “To win regional and get an opportunity to be at the national tournament.”
|Chloe Custis||G||FR||Greencastle, Ind.|
|Kayla Sirjord||G||SO||Ulen-Hiterdall, MN|
Nov. 20 SOUTHWESTERN ILLINOIS*, 1 p.m.; Tuesday-OLNEY CENTRAL COLLEGE*, 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 1-WABASH VALLEY*, 5 p.m.; Dec. 3-Johnson County at John Wood Community College, 5:30 p.m.; Dec. 4-at Carl Sandburg, 1 p.m.; Dec. 8 at Rend Lake, 5 p.m.; Dec. 11-at Olney Central College*, 1 p.m.; Dec. 15-JOHN A. LOGAN*, 5:30 p.m.; Dec. 17-at Grand Rapids, Mich., 4:30 p.m.; Dec. 18 at Muskegon, Mi. noon; Dec. 29-KANKAKEE, 6 p.m.; Dec. 30-MORTON, 2 p.m.
Jan. 12-at John Wood Community College, 5:30 p.m.; Jan. 15-at Spoon River*, 5:30 p.m.; Jan. 19-ILLINOIS CENTRAL COLLEGE, 5:30 p.m.; Jan. 22-LEWIS & CLARK, 1 p.m.; Jan. 26-at Parkland, 5:30 p.m.; Jan. 29-at Danville Area Community College, 1 p.m.
Feb. 2-LINCOLN LAND, 5:30 p.m.; Feb. 5-SPOON RIVER*, 1 p.m.; Feb. 9-JOHN WOOD, 5:30 p.m.;Feb. 12-at Lewis & Clark, 1 p.m; Feb. 16-at Illinois Central, 5:30 p.m.; Feb. 19-at Lincoln Land, 1 p.m.; Feb. 23-PARKLAND, 5:30 p.m.; Feb. 26-at Danville Area Community College, 1 p.m.*-Great Rivers Athletic Conference game