By Mike Monahan

The Lake Land women’s basketball team, the No. 12 team in the nation in Division II NJCAA, has been preparing for the Region 24 tournament.

The Lakers, 24-6, received a bye and don’t play until the semifinals Saturday at 2 p.m. against. Illinois Central College, a 59-48 winner over Lincoln Land on Wednesday.

“Lewis & Clark stopped their season as they had too many injuries and not enough players,” said Lake Land coach Dave Johnson. “That is why we didn’t have to play. At first I thought it was a  bad thing,but now we have a week to prepare and to rest our legs a little bit. We will just work on things we need to sharpen up a little bit. We will do a lot of shooting drills and go over some of the things we want to run and things like that.” 

The Lakers losing their only MWAC (Mid-West Athletic Conference) game of the season 61-52 to Lincoln Land on Feb. 1, its first in the conference after being independent last season and in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference in 2005-06 and prior to that were in the CCCI (Collegiate Conference of Central Illinois) from 1998-2005. The CCCI later became the MWAC. 

Lake land played ICC (no. 17 in the nation) three times and lost to them 72-69 in the Cougar Holiday Tournament Dec. 30; beat ICC Jan. 18 69-55 and lost 93-88 in overtime on Feb. 15. 

“It will be a battle,” said Johnson. “There are five really good teams in the regional. It doesn’t matter who we play in the semifinals, we are going to play a really good team.”

Parkland (no. 14 in the nation) beat Spoon River 75-34 and Danville Area Community College beat John Wood in other Region 24 Tournament games Wednesday. 

If Lake Land wins they play for the Region 24 title at 2 p.m. Sunday at Laker Fieldhouse. 

Lake Land won the MWAC going 11-1.

“We met a couple of goals already, 20 wins, winning the conference was another goal for us and going 11-1 is a really good redcord with the teams that are in the conference. It is nice to win it and it means a lot to the kids. It is just a great league to play in with so many high level teams. We have a great schedule as we played 17 teams that were either ranked or receiving votes in the National poll and you can’t ask for more in a schedule to play that high quality competition.”

Lake Land has been ranked in the top 12 all season.

One of the things Johnson wanted to improve on from last season was rebounding. 

“It materialized over the last half of the season,” said Johnson, a member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. 

The Lakers average 68.3 points, 33.4 rebounds and 16.3 assists per game, while shooting 42.3 percent from the field, including 35.6 percent from three-point territory and 72.7 percent from the free throw line. 

Another thing they were working on to improve from last season was defensively working on transition to offensive sets, making them a little quicker and a little smoother. 

“I don’t know where we are on that; a lot depends on the lineup for us,” said Johnson. We mix and match our lineup. That is something that depends on the lineup we have.”

Lake Land is ranked in the top 25 in several categories, including 21st in field goal percentage, fifth in average 3-point field goals made (9.5), fourth in 3-point field goal percentage, 10th in free throw percentage, 8th in average fouls per game at just five. 

Before the season started Johnson felt the team would be deep and it turned out to be accurate as all 15 players have played in at least 16 of the 30 games, including 10 between 25 and 30 games. 

“I think this is one of the deeper teams, ” said Johnson. “We spell a lot of kids in different situations and they have played well for us. We have shot the ball well this year and that has been a real positive thing for us. I also think our balance in scoring has been a huge plus.”

The Lakers have four players that average in double digits with Lexi Niebrugge leading the way with 11.9, Katelyn Littlejohn at 11.2, Tayler Barry at 10.7 and Olivia Niemerg at 10.1 points per game. 

Niemerg is tops in rebounds (7.8) and assists (6.2) and steals (1.5). 

Lake Land has now had six straight 20 plus winning seasons (2017-18 going 22-11; 2018-19 24-8; 2019-20 30-3; 2020-21 25-2; 2021-22 22-10 and this season are 24-6 so far. 

“It is a tribute to our players, ” said Johnson, who had five straight 20 win seasons from 2010-11 through 2014-15. “I am very fortunate to have very coachable kids to have worked really hard to build our program up. Most of the kids know our program before they come. Now we have high expectations. A lot of work goes into what they do. In basketball it is from August through the end of March every year plus our summer period time in June; that is putting a lot of effort into it. I couldn’t ask for anymore out of them. They have had a great effort, great attention and focus and that has been a lot the last 6 years. A lot of kids are local, which is kind of cool also.”

Region 24 Tournament


Game 1: Parkland 75 Spoon River (7, 10-18 ) 34

Game 2: Danville Area Community College (4, 15-9) def. John Wood (6,9-19)  by 25

Game 3: Illinois Central College 59, Lincoln Land (19-11) 48

Saturday at Lake Land

Game 4: Illinois Central College (2, 20-10)  vs Lake Land (1, 24-6), 2 p.m.

Game 5: Parkland (3, 23-4) vs. Danville Area Community College (4, 16-9), 4 p.m.

Sunday at Lake Land

Game 6: Winner of game 4 vs. Winner of game 5, championship, 2 p.m.