Merrill girls present poised, polished debut in Medford
A new season hung glittering like a diamond in front of the Merrill girls on Monday night. Or maybe an icicle, since, after all, it’s a winter season starting.
Whichever, the possibilities sparkled in the first place and only increased in brilliance after the Bluejays stepped up with a 52-21 triumph in a road game against Medford, the co-champ of the GNC last year.
“We played excellent,” MHS coach Melissa Yuska said. “Everybody contributed in one way or another. It’s really nice to start off a season with everybody making a contribution to a win.
“We came out real strong. Our defense was impressive. We were able to pressure them into mistakes and still be patient on offense. So it was a really strong all-around game for our team.”
The veteran team didn’t suffer from any first-game jitters.
“We were being patient,” Yuska said. “We really want to work from the inside out. We realized when we had good outside shots and took them and we realized when to work it inside. The inside players did a good job of kicking it back out when the defense collapsed.
“They just played really smart basketball and to do that in a first game is exciting.”
The game also marked the return of Renee Sladek – a two-time Valley First Team selection– who blew out her knee nearly a year ago. The WVC coaches still voted her the co-POY.
Sladek, who also recently signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball for Northern Illinois University, proved she has made big recovery strides by nearly out-scoring the entire Red Raider squad. She put up 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting to go with six rebounds and five steals. Sladek scored 15 of her points in the first half, with six buckets and 3-for-3 shooting from the line.
“It was nice to get her back in the flow of things,” Yuska said. “She looked comfortable. I’m sure she was excited to be back on the court.
“Everybody stepped up around her. It was just a total team effort. Obviously the game was lop-sided, but when I gave kids minutes they played smart basketball.”
The Bluejays took immediate control of the game, sticking the Red Raiders in a 17-2 hole over the first eight minutes.
“They had a three right at the end of the half or we almost held them to nine points,” Yuska said. “That really says a lot about our defense. The girls did exactly what we asked of them, defensively.
“That’s in transition, too, which is hard to do. We didn’t allow any points in transition. That’s exciting.”
It didn’t get much better in the second quarter for Medford. Despite that late three, the host team still was out-scored 16-10 in the second, pushing the Jays’ lead into double double digits at 33-12.
Merrill closed it out with a 9-2 advantage in the fourth quarter.
Dawn Leland – who recently signed a NLOI to play basketball for U. of Minn.-Crookston – scored 9 and added 2 blocks.
Other contributions came from: Mariah Turenne (7 p, 3 st); Emily Page (6 p, 3 st); Lauren Hojan (3 r, 4 bl); Reegan Byer (3 p, 3 st); Starr Krenzke (6 r including 5 off.);
Nine different Bluejays scored in the game, including Hojan, Krenzke, Ashley Berton, Morgan Wilde and Morgan Marnholtz in addition to the above.
Merrill–FG: 19-49 (39%); FT: 12-18 (67%). Medford–FG: 9; FT: 1-4 (25%).
Merrill will kick off its home season with Antigo at 7:30 on Friday night.
“Hopefully the way we played defense and smart basketball carries over into the next game,” Yuska said.