Janke, Hoolihan proud of their evenly matched teams
"Our girls always give a really good effort," the 2-0 Ellsworth girls basketball head coach Jason Janke said following his team's win over Spring Valley (0-3) on Tuesday, Nov. 21. "They're rarely going to falter with effort."
Spring Valley coach Sean Hoolihan, whose coaching style closely resembles Janke's, shared similar words about his players.
"Our girls are grinders," Hoolihan said. "They do a good job of getting in and working hard."
Janke and Hoolihan's evenly matched teams presented a game of grit and guts that ended with an Ellsworth 44-37 victory Tuesday night.
Emma Swanson, Ellsworth's star guard who has been recovering from a hamstring injury, scored the first points of the night in her first game of the season off of a steal that resulted in a breakaway layup. The junior finished with seven points in her first game back with the Panthers.
Spring Valley responded with a Tessa Cipriano three-pointer and a Camryn Wegener long two, but that was all the scoring the Cardinals would see until after the ten-minute mark.
The Cardinals' offense was plagued with turnovers early in the game, which helped the Panthers pull away with a 9-0 run led by free throws from Ellsworth freshman Autumn Earney and two more buckets from Swanson.
Hoolihan called his first timeout of the night at 12:14, and switched his team's defense from a man-to-man to a 2-3 zone, which gave Ellsworth some trouble initially and led to a Spring Valley 9-0 run of their own.
But the Panthers soon got into a rhythm and took a seven-point lead at 21-14 with an 18-footer from junior Olivia Lynner, an Earney three and two free throws from the freshman.
Spring Valley senior Brianna O'Brien closed the gap by also getting to the line and sinking two free throws, and a Cipriano fast break layup cut Ellsworth's lead to three before Janke called a timeout with three minutes left in the first half.
While Spring Valley's veterans stepped up late in the first half, it was Ellsworth's newbies who lengthened the deficit before halftime.
Junior Aly Reuvers scored a putback after her team's timeout, grabbed two offensive boards and recorded an assist on Caitlin Dahl's basket in Ellsworth's next possession. O'Brien scored once again for the Cardinals, and Brenna Schreiber went one-for-two at the line to bring the halftime score to 25-21 in Ellsworth's favor.
Once again, the Panthers created an early run for themselves to start the half, but O'Brien kept the Cardinals from getting blown out after coming out flat-footed to start the second half. O'Brien scored her team's first points of the half by driving past four Ellsworth defenders for an easy lay-in and scoring a three in her team's next possession. The senior guard led her team in scoring with 11 points. Cipriano and Wegener each added nine.
"They slowed the game down in their head," Hoolihan said about his two seniors, O'Brien and Cipriano. "They just seemed way more calm tonight than the first two games. Tessa and Bri have been through a lot, and as seniors on this team they've done a great job of being good leaders, and I hope—actually, I know they're going to continue that throughout the year."
The Cardinals kept their poise and got within three points of the Panthers, but two threes from Lynner gave Ellsworth another comfortable nine-point lead with less than five minutes left on the clock.
"Olivia Lynner stepped up when we really needed some offense," Janke said. "We probably don't win the game without her making those plays."
Lynner had 14 points on the night right behind Earney who led Ellsworth's scoring with 15 points.
The Cardinals continued to fight until the final horn, but ultimately fell 37-44 on the Panthers' court.
"We expected that," Janke said of the Cardinals' resilience late in the game. "Sean Hoolihan is a fantastic coach. Sean has the respect of everybody who knows him. So I knew that was coming. They're well-coached, and they are scrappers, they're fighters. I'm sure Sean might say the same thing. It's kind of like looking in the mirror. We're coaching the same kinds of kids who are just going to fight and scrap."
Janke was pleased with the way his team filled their roles throughout the game despite some of their typical scorers having off shooting nights.
Ellsworth's depth has led them to their best start in over a decade, but the Panthers aren't letting their early success get to their heads.
"For whatever reason this year, they're not as an emotional bunch as they have been, which is alright. If they're expecting to win games then that's certainly a good thing," Janke said. "I think it's very good to have it even keel. I think good teams have poise, and I think that's what our kids are showing. They're really excited to be where they're at, but they also understand that we've got a long ways to go, and I'm proud of that maturity."
Hoolihan's team is off to the exact opposite start of Janke's, yet like Janke, he's impressed with the progress he's seen in his players.
"We got better tonight. It wasn't enough to win this game and that's always disappointing, but we got better and I'm really proud of this group," Hoolihan said. "It was a really good game, I wish we could play each other again later in the year, but I'm really proud of my team."
Next, Hoolihan will continue to challenge his players while still keeping their spirits lifted.
"[We'll] get back to work," Hoolihan said, "but what I like about this group is I know they're going to come in tomorrow and they're going to be ready to work.
"I try to be firm, but I try to be positive with them. Losing in and of itself is a negative thing, so with high school kids you've gotta watch yourself sometimes. Our job is to teach them things through a positive way, and that's kind of the way we do things over there, and I know Jason does over here in Ellsworth, too."
"As the saying goes, we're going to keep pounding the craft," Janke said, "and we're going to keep working on the things we're starting to get good at."