When Lake Land made the transition from the Great Rivers Athletic Conference, the point was to strengthen its schedule.
That’s exactly what happened as the Lakers played 15 games against ranked opponents this season. The Lakers are hopeful that experience will translate to a berth back to the National Tournament.
“They’re extremely hungry,” said Lake Land coach Dave Johnson. “The goal is trying to get back.”
Lake Land enters the Region 24 Tournament as the No. 1 seed and host site. The Lakers are 24-6 on the season and captured the MId-West Athletic Conference. Johnson was named the Coach of the Year in his first season.
Lake Land is 24-6 on the season and finished up conference play 11-1, capturing the conference title with a tight 51-49 win over Parkland. Given how the tournament goes, Lake Land could play Parkland again.
“It was a high-level, intense game in terms of effort,” said Johnson. “Parkland and Lake Land are rivals. I don’t think it would have mattered if the conference was on the lines. Both teams know each other by now. It comes down to which teams execute. Both teams play great defensively and limit opportunities.”
That’s not all. Getting to nationals is going to require Lake Land to potentially go through Parkland, Danville Area Community College, or Illinois Central. With Lake Land, those are four quality schools that have found their way into the rankings conversation.
“Regardless, we are going to have to beat two good teams whoever we play in the semis,” said Johnson. “If we are lucky enough to get to the championship game, we will need to play solid defense. We have gotten better in the last month. We’ll need to make open shots. That is always the key. We shoot a ton outside and must make those shots.”
The Lakers had three members of the team finish All-Conference. Both Olivia Niemerg and Lexi Niebrugge were All-MWAC First Team while Katelyn Littleton was All-MWAC Second Team.
Niemerg and Niebrugge have found their way toward the top of the box score in nearly every game.
“They are both steady every game,” said Johnson. “They know the shouting report and have a high basketball game IQ. They are very much team players. They play together and do whatever it takes to win.”
Both Niemerg and Niebrugge are two of nine sophomores on the team. Johnson said the team’s experience is a huge reason for the team’s success.
“Five kids on the court played over 60 college games so that is a tremendous help,” said Johnson. “Last year, it was the first year of a national championship. We were very young so many freshmen carried the burden. This year we are more comfortable. It’s a more balanced team. We don’t have that one dominant player like an Avery Jackson or a Kassidy Bonebrake. We have someone like Tayler Barry setup up for 20 points or Ali Watson get 14. They have the ability to pick each other. That’s what makes this team different.”