Tri-County prep girls basketball teams play through COVID-19 disruptions

Osseo-Fairchild and Fall Creek finished 1-2 respectively in the West Cloverbelt Conference in prep girls basketball last season and hopes to do the same in the 2020-21 season.

However, intervening, in both teams hopes and plans is the COVID-19 virus. Indeed, the pandemic delayed the start of the season for Osseo-Fairchild until this week and has wiped out the schedule for Fall Creek for the remainder of the month of December after the Crickets started 5-0. Eleva-Strum also saw its season suspended due to the virus only to resume this week as well.

Players, coaches and officials and fans have to wear masks and socially distance on the sidelines and fan attendance is limited with no concessions sold as well, similar to volleyball this past fall.

The goal it seems, for most teams is just to play and play as long as they can do so safely.

"Our plan is to get a solid game plan that will work for the majority of teams we play as games will be cancelled and rescheduled regularly this season," Osseo-Fairchild head coach Tera Simpson said. "We won't have the luxury of preparing a specific set of goals for a specific team. We will just have to play solid basketball without all the bells and whistles of a season outside of a pandemic".

Helping FC off to such a great start are returning letter-winners from last year's conference and WIAA regional tournament runner-ups including seniors Mackensey Kolpien, Emma Ryan, Emily Madden and junior Gianna Vollrath. The team will be helped by senior Katie Kent sophomores Jenna Anders and Tori Marten. Graduating seniors included Ariel Heuer, Katelyn Hong, Quinlyn Rubeck and Tara Jirskla.

Osseo-Fairchild has plenty of returning letter-winners from its conference championship and regional runner-up squad in Madison Hugdahl - Senior (2nd Team All Conference), Dezaray Eisberner - Junior, Lacey Frase - Junior, Mariah Steinke - Junior, Brooke McCune - Junior (1st Team All Conference) and Eleice Dahl - Sophomore. The Thunder graduated Makayla Steinke (1st Team All Conference), Autumn Volbrecht (Honorable Mention All Conference), Kari Herman and Korynn Metzler.

Eleva-Strum made it the furthest of all the Tri-County area teams by winning the Division 5 regional title over Cashton 76-64 before losing to top-ranked Bangor in the sectional semis. The top player from that team and in the past few seasons for the Cardinals, Bri Nelson, has graduated along with departing seniors Kloe Hillstead, Kylie Putzy, Jayden Ellifson, Bethany Christianson, Alexandra Schick, Olivia Winjue and Kelli Hanson. E-S will try to rebuild for this season with players such as seniors Jordyn Turk and Amber Wojcik and juniors Grace Clark, Madison Schultz, Avery Larabee and Karsyn Putzy.

Augusta has been able to get through its initial schedule this month without disruption due to COVID-19 but its been a tough go for the Beavers so far, facing strong teams with a groups that has plenty of seniors but not as much varsity game experience. Augusta graduated Chloe Jacobs, Hannah King, and Jessa Weiss from last season's 6-17 squad. Returning letter-winners are seniors Aiza Larson, Phoenyx Knuth, Bri Kruger, Kennedy Schroeder Jordin Gunter and Clarisse Tepaske along with junior Kristen Willems. Starting at point guard is sophomore Kennedy Korger.

"We're on the cusp of being a good, competitive team," new head coach Mike Vesperman said. "We just have to keep improving our defense, communication and trust in each other along with learning a new offense. That takes time but we're getting there."

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