The St. James Area girls basketball team put a bow on their 2019-2020 year with a banquet held inside First Lutheran Church on Sunday night.
The 2019-2020 season was a giant step forward for the program, winning nine games, a four-game improvement over both 2017-2018 and 2018-2019. The nine-win mark was the most since the 2010 season, when the girls finished 11-13.
The numbers back up the improved record. The Saints showed improvements across the board, points per game, free throws, threes, blocks, and an increase of 92 assists from a year ago.
The 320 assists tallied marked the ninth highest in school history. The 125 blocks St. James had was the fifth-highest in program history. Kaydi Anderson finishes her career with 116 career blocks, with 52 of those coming in her senior season.
St. James buried 124 threes as a team, marking the first time the program had hit the 100 three total. Three-point attempts (482) was also a program record. This past year also notes the highest three-pointers made in a single game with 11 against New Ulm and ten against GHEC/ML/T. Chloe Mickelson hit 60 threes on the year, a program record, and ended the year one three-pointer shy of Abby Lindquist's program record of 126 set in 2004.
Head coach Steve Witcraft joked that Mickelson wasn't allowed to take any threes in her senior season to preserve Lindquist's record.
The Saints cut their turnovers from 605 to 554, the fourth consecutive year in which turnovers have decreased. Witcraft said the girls still had work to do in the turnover department, and that passing would be a focus over the summer.
The Saints will return all contributors outside Anderson, including team MVP Jaelyn Haler. As a sophomore, Haler finished fourth on the team in scoring at seven points per game, led the team in rebounds with 7.52 per game. Haler also led the Saints in assists with 71, steals with 47 and was second to Anderson in blocks with 35.
Haler showed more aggressiveness on the offensive end, expanding her range past the three-point line while also showing an ability to drive to the basket.
Ellie Becker was rewarded for her work on the defensive end and was given the best defensive player award for the second consecutive year. Becker tallied 43 assists and was a pest on the perimeter, using her quick feet and hands to be a nuisance on the defensive end.
Taylor Sodeman won the most improved player award. As a freshman, Sodeman was the Saints' second-leading scorer at eight per game and shot a team-high 46% from the field. Sodeman ranked third in rebounding (4.89 per game) and finished fourth with 45 assists.
Witcraft noted her ability to play inside-out will be a big asset for his club next year.
Sodeman could crack the starting lineup as a sophomore. Becker, Mickelson, Haler, Sodeman, and Kelsey Grunewald will likely round out the starting five for the Saints next fall.
Torri Mohwinkel will also return as a reliable defender and passer. Mohwinkel was the only Saint to finish the year with more assists (59) than turnovers (52).
Other underclass contributors like Madelyn Malmgren, Addie Bowers, and Lunden Swanson will further add depth to a team that Witcraft believes can win around 15 games.
"This is a year where I think a lot of good things can happen," said Witcraft. "There's a lot of talent at this table and a lot of capability."
Witcraft challenged his team to focus on turning the ball over less and getting to the foul line more next year.
The Saints will have four senior contributors in Mickelson, Mohwinkel, Grunewald, and Becker next season, so the iron is hot for the Saints to take another leap forward.
Letterwinners: Kaydi Anderson, Torri Mohwinkel, Chloe Mickelson, Ellie Becker, Kelsey Grunewald, Jaelyn Haler, Sailor Mohlenbrock, Taylor Sodeman, Addie Bowers, Lunden Swanson, Madelyn Malmgren, Makenna Rotert
Spotlight on Scholarship: Ellie Becker, Kelsey Grunewald, Chloe Mickelson, Torri Mohwinkel, Jaelyn Haler, Sailor Mohlenbrock, Makenna Rotert