Prior to the 2018-19 season, the BPHS girls basketball team had claimed a total of six Minnesota River Conference victories over a three-year stretch, posting a 16-63 overall mark during that period.
Then things started to change.
The squad finished the 2019 campaign with a 7-6 conference mark, 13-12 overall, then stormed to the top of the heap last year, finishing 14-0 in the MRC and 25-4 overall.
It was the program’s first conference championship in 17 years.
While the season came to a disappointing conclusion with a 57-45 loss to rival Jordan in the 2AA Sub-Section championship, there is promise abound as the squad prepares for 2021.
Fourth-year head coach Mindy Chevalier returns four starters and a fifth that played substantial minutes and started 10 games.
Expectations are high.
“I think the key is that these girls have spent their athletic careers committed to constant improvement in all their activities,” Chevalier said, noting that most of her players are three-sport athletes. “They have committed to the weight room, their strength, speed and conditioning, as well as skill development. It’s that kind of mentality that will help them overcome the increased expectations. They have high expectations for themselves, they love to compete, and hate to lose.”
Senior guard Sarah Lenz is a four-year starter and two-time captain. She averaged 16.4 points, five rebounds, three assists, and three steals while earning her third all MRC honor last season.
Senior forward Lauren Johnson was an all-state honorable mention performer a season ago, averaging 15.2 points per game and shooting 44 percent from beyond the three-point line. She is a two-time all MRC performer.
Senior forward Lizzy Schmidt scored eight points per game, grabbed five rebounds, and is a three-year starter. Schmidt is one of the team’s leading rebounders and top post defenders and also an all-MRC honorable mention performer last season.
Junior guard McKenna Ziemke was an MRC-honorable mention performer last season as well. She averaged 5.4 points and 3.6 rebounds, and Chevalier called her an “excellent passer” who will also be expected to handle the ball and score more this season.
Junior forward Leah Lenz played major minutes off the bench last season and started 10 games, averaging 6.2 points and 5.2 rebounds. She is a tough post-defender and one of the team’s top shot blockers.
Chevalier said her team has always been a defensive driven team, and that will not change. She is hopeful, however, that her team will push more tempo this season offensively.
“We will look to create more tempo this year,” Chevalier said. “Every player who steps on the floor for us has the ability to score. We want to be able to play disciplined in the half-court as well as … get teams in a full court game. Our plan will depend on the opponent we play and their strengths and weaknesses.”
The Tigers will also get contributions from four other returning letterwinners, including seniors Hayley O’Brien, Ari Koepp, Brooke McGlinchey, and Brynn Meyer.
Chevalier anticipates Norwood Young America, who was decimated by injuries a season ago, to once again be a factor in the MRC standings. Mayer Lutheran and Southwest Christian also always add athletic and talented teams to the mix.
For the post-season, Belle Plaine, Lake Crystal-Welcome Memorial, NYA, Glencoe-Silver Lake, and Jordan will all be factors come section tournament time.
The Tigers open the season on Thursday, Jan. 14, when they entertain Jordan, who is not a member of the MRC this season. Glencoe Silver Lake will visit Belle Plaine on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
BPHS Girls Basketball Team Schedule as of Jan. 12
Jan. 14: 7:15 vs. Jordan
Jan. 19: 7:30 vs. GSL
Jan. 22: 7:15 @ SE
Jan. 25: 7:15 vs. NYA
Jan. 28: 7:15 @ TCU
Feb. 2: 7:15 @ Mayer Luth.
Feb. 5: 7:15 vs. LSH
Feb. 11: 7:15 vs. SWC
Feb. 16: 7:15 vs. SE
Feb. 19: 7:15 @ NYA
Feb. 23: 7:15 vs. Waseca
Feb. 25: 7:15 vs. Mayer Luth.
Mar. 2: 7:15 @ LSH
Mar. 4: 7:15 vs. New Ulm
Mar. 6: 1:30 @ LSH
Mar. 8: 7:15 @ SWC
Mar. 11: 7:15 @ NYA
Mar. 12: 7:15 vs. TCU