The Minnewaska girls basketball team has a big group of upperclassmen who are ready to try to build on an up-and-down 2020 season.

The Lakers went 12-13 a year ago and finished at .500 in the West Central Conference. Head coach Brett Thorfinnson said this year’s group is focused on doing everything it can to make the season run smoothly in the midst of the pandemic. He’s excited to get going with what he called a hard-working group of athletes that should make for a competitive team this winter.

“We have some big shoes to fill after some graduations, but we have a good group of girls ready to step in and do just that,” Thorfinnson said. “We have some girls who don’t have a ton of varsity experience but I believe will contribute some really good minutes for us. I’m very excited to see what this group can do.”

Makena Panitzke (G), Avery Hoeper (F), Isabelle Ortendahl (P), Annika Randt (G), and Brecklyn Beyer (F) are the seniors on the roster. They are joined by a big group of juniors on varsity that includes Maddie Thorfinnson (G), Addy Randt (G), Emma Kovarik (G), Olivia Richards (G), Maddy Meulebroeck (F), Leah Hagen (G) and Berkley Steffen (F).

“I believe that we’ll be able to defend, but we need to figure out a way to score the basketball consistently,” Thorfinnson said. “To me, that will be our biggest challenge and the biggest question we need to answer. If we can figure that out, we’ll be a pretty good team.”

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Thorfinnson expects perennial Class AA power Sauk Centre to be good again this winter after the Mainstreeters went 28-4 overall last year and won the WCC at 14-0.

“New London-Spicer will be the team to beat in sections,” Thorfinnson said. “Morris, Melrose and BOLD are always tough conference teams. Montevideo is also on the rise, so I think our conference will be very competitive.”

Minnewaska finished fifth in the conference last season, and the Lakers hope to climb the ladder in the league when things get going on Friday night. The season starts against a BOLD team that was 18-10 overall a year ago.

“I expect this group to be extremely competitive,” Thorfinnson said. “I know these girls and I know they work hard. I’ve had a chance to coach them for many years and they’ll leave it out on the floor every night. We always approach it one game at a time, one possession at a time, and one defensive stop at a time. If you do that, the bigger goals will take care of themselves.”

2021 MINNEWASKA GIRLS BASKETBALL

SENIORS - Makena Panitzke, G; Avery Hoeper, F; Isabelle Ortendahl, P; Annika Randt, G; Brecklyn Beyer, F

JUNIORS - Maddie Thorfinnson, G; Addy Randt, G; Emma Kovarik, G; Olivia Richards, G; Maddy Meulebroeck, F; Leah Hagen, G; Berkley Steffen, F

MINNEWASKA GIRLS BASKETBALL SCHEDULE

Jan. 15 vs. BOLD, 7 p.m.

Jan. 21 at Morris Area, 7 p.m.

Jan. 23 vs. Melrose Area, 1 p.m.

Jan. 26 at Sauk Centre, 7 p.m.

Feb. 1 vs. Morris Area, 7 p.m.

Feb. 4 vs. Montevideo, 7 p.m.

Feb. 9 at Melrose Area, 7 p.m.

Feb. 12 vs. BBE, 7 p.m.

Feb. 15 vs. Sauk Centre, 7 p.m.

Feb. 18 vs. Benson, 7 p.m.

Feb. 23 vs. Osakis, 7 p.m.

Feb. 26 vs. Paynesville, 7 p.m.

March 1 at Eden Valley-Watkins, 7 p.m.

March 6 vs. Redwood Valley, 4 p.m.

March 8 at Montevideo, 7 p.m.

March 11 at BOLD, 7 p.m.

March 12 at Benson, 7 p.m.

March 13 at Litchfield, Noon