Osakis girls basketball: New faces in place

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For more than half a decade now, coaches for the Osakis girls basketball team had a pretty good idea of how their players would stack up against the competition.

Experience often helps in sports, and the Silverstreaks had it in recent years. Girls who had been through the battles at the varsity level. It led to five straight seasons with at least 20 wins, culminating last winter with a 24-4 mark.

Things are quite different this season, and head coach Pat Kalpin is the first to recognize that. Osakis returns just one starter from a year ago in senior point guard Lauren Savageau. She provides a steady presence after being named All-Prairie Conference and to the Section 6AA-West All-Tournament team a year ago.

Gone, though, are all-conference players in Alecia Kaelke, Kayla Sorenson and Morgan Staloch, along with an honorable-mention all-conference player in Nicolle Klukken.

That leaves the Silverstreaks with a few more questions than they have had in a long time as they get set for the season opener on Nov. 28 at Holdingford.

"It's a lot of unknowns," Kalpin said before the third practice of the season on Nov. 15. "Going back to last summer with this group, I was pretty pleasantly surprised and excited with the things we accomplished in our team camps and some tournaments we got in. We have a ways to go, but it gave me some direction on which way to go with this group."

That has Kalpin optimistic about the growth potential of this team. It's early, but he has liked the work ethic he has seen from players through the first few days of practice. That's the number one thing they try to instil in players from a young age.

Kalpin has seen that drive to learn, which makes this transition a little easier as a new wave of players get their opportunity to succeed.

"The reason you're in coaching are the challenges that are there for you," Kalpin said. "It's not wins or losses, it's the challenges and having a new team like this and watching them grow as a group and improve together is something that's pretty exciting."

Kalpin spent the beginning of practice on Nov. 15 going through drills with his team. Passing, dribbling, defensive stances. All of that took precedence before ever running through a play.

Instead of telling players how to run things, Kalpin says there has been more showing them how to do it through early practices.

"To be expected," he said. "That's part of it. When you're coaching a lot of years you go through cycles and this is one of those years where we have some new girls on varsity. Probably going back to 2010 since we've had a year like this. It's exciting, it's fun."

Players say they are ready for the challenge. Savageau will have a lot of things run through her this season as the player back with the most experience.

"I don't think that's any secret to anybody," Kalpin said. "We got girls who can play. It's not that she's our only player, but she's one we're going to look upon. Between her and Madi Johanson, those are the two that had extensive playing time last year."

Savageau says it will be different without having some of those other veterans around her, but she's excited about this season. Confidence might need to be built up as new players get their feet wet on this level. That comes with experience.

"Once you get used to playing with everyone, knowing where everyone is on the court, you get used to that," Savageau said. "We're a bunch of athletic girls. We have speed out there and we communicate well. I think we have a pretty good shooting team, so finding those open spots and creating those open shots will be good for us."

Senior guard Bree Timmerman is one of the players who will get a chance to take on an expanded role this season. Kalpin has told his players that the group that works together the best will play the most. There are spots available. It's on the athletes to grab them.

"I think it's a great opportunity to step up," Timmerman said. "I think the most important part is having fun and growing together as a team. Obviously, we want to improve our skills, but as we have fun those other things will come with it."

If there are a lot of nerves about filling a bigger role, Timmerman is not showing it early.

"It's exciting to know that we'll get a chance to show what we have," she said. "To be able to move up and take a lead on this team that we didn't previously have. Just have fun with it is the most important part."

Kalpin always preaches the importance of the day-to-day. Get better every practice, every game. If players focus on that, he likes the potential of this team.

Winning has been a part of this program for years. Those 20-win seasons almost became an expectation for the Silverstreaks. Even with so many new faces, players don't want to lose sight of that heading into this winter.

"I think we should all still expect to win," Savageau said. "We have it in us to win games still. We just have to work hard and keep practicing to get there, but I think we can do it."