Sports
Panthers start the year 3-0, offseason leadership is key

Ellsworth Girls Basketball Preview

The Ellsworth girls basketball team, which has started the 2021-22 season 3-0, is having a stellar start to the season after finishing last year with a record of 9-10. Head coach Jason Janke has spent the last six years building the Panthers’ basketball program.

In this girls basketball preview, coach Janke spoke about his roster, notable players and what can be expected for the Panthers this season.

“Our Panther girls will be a very young varsity group,” Janke said. “Of the 26 total players on the team, 20 are freshmen and sophomores – two sophomores return to the varsity lineup and one senior, but beyond that, we have very little varsity experience.”

Janke made sure to talk about notable players on the roster and what they have done in the offseason, both this year and in years past, to help improve the team once the season begins.

“We have had strong offseason leadership from seniors Ashley Koch and Payton Langer, as well as sophomores Molly Janke, Maria Harrington and Ava Brookshaw,” Jason Janke said. “We have a lot of excitement in our program, as nine of our kids were involved in AAU basketball and we routinely were hosting a dozen or more players to open gyms throughout the summer, a significant change in our program.”

Of course, some players have solidified their spot in the varsity rotation in the first three games of the season. However, Janke said there is still competition for varsity time, which he said is a good thing.

“We host a group that will see plenty of competition for our varsity positions, which is a good thing,” Jason Janke said. “We will have to display some maturity and team-first mentality things that are critical to team development. I think we have a great group in place to do this.”

While Ellsworth is a young team, some seniors are still considered to be locker room leaders. Other players have also played significant minutes, which Jason Janke spoke about.

“Like almost all great teams, our senior leadership will be very important, and we will certainly be an example of that,” Jason Janke said. “Over the last several years, we have stressed the importance of teamwork and finding/learning roles. Hayley Bach brings back the most playing time in the 2022 class and will be counted on for great defense, while fellow guard Langer is one of our more vocal in-practice leaders who provides strong defense and very strong presence with a fantastic team-first attitude.”

Leadership on a young team is always important, but so is putting the ball in the bucket. A majority of the Ellsworth scoring will be done by Brookshaw and Molly Janke. Through the first three games of the season, Molly Janke has been the offensive standout. Jason Janke spoke about the offensive threats.

“Brookshaw and Molly Janke will be asked to shoulder much of the scoring load early in the season until other players work themselves into offensive roles,” Jason Janke said. “We are hopeful that off-season shooting preparation by Taylor Peterson, Aubrey Wittenberg and Maria Harrington parlays into a strong shooting team, while the mid-range development of Kayla Kressin and Jillian Griggs could prove critical as well on the offensive end.”

After Ellsworth graduated its all-time leading scorer last season, there were some questions from the coaches in the league as to who would fill those shoes and carry the scoring load for the Panthers’ 2021-22 season. Jason Janke said being picked to finish in the bottom half of the Middle Border Conference is bulletin board material for the girls.

“Our league coaches picked us to finish in the bottom half of the league and we hope to finish in the top half, so that’s a good motivator for our kids,” Jason Janke said. “Based on losing our program’s all-time leading scorer to Bethel University, we will take a little while to get going on offense, but we hope to be competitive each night out and find a way to win more than our share at the end of games.”

Jason Janke made sure to speak about his coaching staff, which he said consists of great people and coaches.

“Our coaching staff includes Jill Hutcheson who coaches JV,” Jason Janke said. “She provides experience and all-around coaching abilities as she also coaches in our volleyball and track programs, so she knows our kids. Allison Odmark coaches our C-team and is also a varsity assistant. She provides a fantastic spark for the kids, as she is only two years removed from competing as a UWEC Blugold softball player.”

Jason Janke made sure to speak about the community support of the girls basketball program. Ellsworth has done a fantastic job as a community supporting Ellsworth sports, especially the football team which competed in the state championship this year.

“We appreciate the support our parents and community have provided our program,” Jason Janke said. “Six years ago, we were lucky to be competitive in three or four games all season, but with support, tons of work, conversations, weight room sessions, and countless miles driven by parents, the kids have willed our program into one that is beginning to earn respect in the area. We are a resilient group that will battle every night.”

Ellsworth is currently 3-0, is scoring more than 53 points per game, and is averaging more than 14 steals per game. The Panthers’ next game is on Tuesday, Dec. 7, on the road against River Falls. That game is slated to begin at 7:15 p.m.One of the most important aspects to improving year after year is a solid, consistent coaching staff. Petersen talked about the people he will be coaching with this season.

“Christian Lahr and James Georgakas will be our JV and C-team coaches this season,” Petersen said. “Both have coached with our program before, so it’s nice to have some continuity with our coaching staff that the players know and enjoy playing for.”

The reason that the Ellsworth boys basketball team hasn’t been on the same schedule as other local teams is because the football team made it to the state title game. So, that pushed the season back two weeks for the basketball team – which is a good problem to have for any local school.

Ellsworth gets its season underway on Tuesday, Dec. 7, at home against the undefeated Prescott Cardinals. That game is slated to begin at 7 p.m.

The 2021-22 Ellsworth girls basketball team. Photo courtesy of Amber Jean Photography

December 7, 2021