By Reagan Hoverman
The River Falls High School girls basketball team, a roster that features no seniors, has set its sights on being competitive and finishing in the top half of the 2021-22 Big Rivers Conference, which is one of the toughest girls basketball conferences in Wisconsin.
For RFHS head coach Ian Sticht, he has an inexperienced roster, to say the least. Of his 11-player varsity squad, only four girls had any varsity experience coming into this season. However, some of the current varsity players did get JV minutes last season, which Sticht said will help with the transition to the varsity level.
“We don’t have a senior on our roster this year,” Sticht said. “Starting the season, we only had four players with varsity experience in Keyah Strop, Jordan Schwantz, Ella Peters and Olivia Pizzi. Dorothy Wiatr is undergoing a season-ending surgery later this week. She played varsity basketball last year. We added Lilly Burke, Jordan Torrez, Emily Van Ausdal and Cheyenne Wilson, who all played JV last year.”
After starting the season 0-4, River Falls rallied in the Wildcats’ home game against then-undefeated Hudson, a team that went to the state title game last season. River Falls played its best game of the season and defeated Hudson 46-41 to secure the first win of the season. The game featured three RFHS players scoring in double-digits, which included Ella Peters with 15, Jordan Schwantz with 13 and Lilly Burke who also had 13. It was a complete team effort, which Sticht said will be critical to any success this season.
“I think any success we have this year will be because every player on our team can contribute,” Sticht said. “I have never had a varsity team before where every member of the varsity is getting significant playing time in every game. In fact, every player we have is averaging 17 minutes or more every game.”
Last season, River Falls finished with a 4-15 overall record, including a 3-9 record in Big Rivers Conference action. According to Sticht, the goal for this season is to finish in the top half of the BRC standings. Last season, River Falls finished in seventh place out of eight total teams.
“I think the expectations or goals that we have for ourselves are that we finish in the top half of the conference,” Sticht said. “We feel like every game we play in we should be competitive. We have had some times this season where we have played really well, but we seem to lack that consistency.”
Last season was similar to this season in terms of varsity experience. During the 2020-21 season, only Rachel Randleman, who is currently playing at St. Kates, and Taylor Kasten had any varsity experience. River Falls is a rebuilding program that features a lot of young, inexperienced players. One way to help the young roster get better is by having a talented, experienced coaching staff to work with the players daily.
“I have the same coaching staff as I had last year,” Sticht said. “Carlie Melstrom is my varsity assistant and Nick Luman is the junior varsity coach. Cindy Holbrook, former UWRF women’s coach, is also volunteering again this year. I absolutely love my coaching staff. I have been very lucky to have such great basketball minds on my staff, but I am even luckier that they are even better people.”
The Wildcats have started the 2021-22 season with a 2-7 record including a 1-3 record in BRC play. That record has them currently in seventh place out of eight total teams in the BRC standings. While Menomonie has set itself apart at the top of the conference with a perfect 3-0 record, River Falls is only two wins away from being in the top half of the conference standings.
If River Falls can string together a couple of good weeks of basketball, finishing in the top half of the conference this season is still in play. The next game on the schedule for River Falls is on Tuesday, Dec. 21, which is a conference game against Eau Claire Memorial. That game is slated to begin at 7:15 p.m.
o courtesy of Ian Sticht