It can be difficult sometimes for coaches to really get a full gauge on how much winning and losing affects their players.
The greatest indicators come in how they carry themselves. Do they react to a losing season by putting work in through the offseason? Are they focused and energetic through practices?
In that sense, Osakis girls basketball coach Pat Kalpin has liked what he has seen from this year’s group after the first week of the season.
The Silverstreaks had just wrapped up a 2.5-hour long practice on Nov. 14 with some conditioning drills when Kalpin took notice that some of his players stayed after to run more sprints. Others were getting more shots up on their own.
“That doesn’t happen very often with some of the groups I’ve had,” Kalpin said. “Normally, they get done running and they’re beelining for the door. That tells me right there they’re hungry. That’s showing me they want to improve.”
It’s part of the reason why Kalpin is confident this will be an improved team this winter. Osakis had won a lot of games the last handful of years, but slipped to a 5-20 record in 2018-19. It’s something that many of the returning players, including the four seniors on the team in Abby Randall, Haylee Jern, Alexa Lien and Maddie Johanson, feel they can learn from.
“We haven’t really talked about it as a team, but I think overall, it’s a good season if we improve our wins and losses from the season before and just improve our skills overall,” Randall said.
Jern said this group learned how to work through some tough times during a season that did not go the way they hoped last winter.
“At some points it was tough,” Lien added. “We just need to realize we need to stick together as a team and realize that we need to all work hard in order to achieve what we want to.”
Last year’s team was entering the season having lost a talented scorer to graduation in Lauren Savageau from the season before. Where exactly that lost scoring would come from was an unknown that was never fully realized. Osakis averaged just 40.6 points per game last winter, second fewest among the 16 teams in the Section 6AA field.
“This year, returning our leading scorer in Alexis Johanson, and Maddie is our leading rebounder and second leading scorer,” Kalpin said. “Adding Mara VanNyhuis back to the team who was out last year. I have more of an idea of who is going to score for us. You got Grace (Oeltjen), you got Haylee, you got Abby. As a coach, you look at those kids and now you set things up for getting them shots at the offensive end.”
VanNyhuis is a player the Silverstreaks are excited to add to the mix. She was injured throughout her freshman season last winter, but she returns to basketball now ready to go after having a good fall season as a fixture in the tennis program.
“She just adds another dynamic to our team as far as a defensive intensity and her ability to get to the basket,” Kalpin said. “You got her and a girl like Alexa Lien who started all year for us at point guard. She’s a senior, a good three-point shooter. You have really four kids who played a ton of minutes last year, as well as three others who played some minutes. Then you add some other younger girls coming up. I’ve got some depth and the opportunity to play big if I want to and the opportunity to play small if I want to.”
Maddie Johanson is perhaps the most experienced player back for a group that is looking for leaders to emerge. She is entering her third season of getting big minutes at the forward/center spot, and she is confident that Osakis is better equipped to handle the challenges that the conference and section schedule will throw at this team.
“Coming together as a team as a whole (is important),” Maddie said. “We’re a lot tighter this year than we were in past seasons. I think coming together and getting the job done as a team is going to improve our wins and losses a lot.”
It’s often said in sports that players should forget about a loss or a losing season quickly in order to move on. Kalpin doesn’t want that to be the case for his girls.
“No, you don’t want to forget about it,” he said. “You want to remember that and push yourself so you don’t allow that to happen again.”
Kalpin is hopeful more wins will come this winter, but he knows they won’t come easy. Section 6AA is expected to be good again with perennially tough programs. Sauk Centre, Rush City, St. Cloud Cathedral, Albany, Foley, Pine City, Royalton and Holdingford all had winning records a year ago, with four of those teams having more than 20 wins.
The section makes things tough for programs looking to climb the ladder, but Kalpin believes this year’s team has the ability to play at a higher level.
“The expectations are higher in talking to the seniors before the season,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s going to mean more wins, but our expectations are higher in how we’re going to play. We definitely have kids who have more experience coming into this year than last year.”