FAIRMONT - If Fairmont head coach Don Waletich and his Cardinal girls basketball team reach the 2013 Section 3AA, South Sub-Section championship game again, it will be with an even younger roster than last season.
"We're young again, but with a little more (varsity) experience coming back," said Waletich, whose lineup tips off the season against the perennial Class AAA powerhouse Marshall Tigers at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Marshall.
"Our first three games will be against teams in a higher class, so that will be a good measuring stick of where we're at right away," the fifth-year Fairmont mentor said in reference to his program's home-opener against Waseca at 7:30 p.m. Friday night at Cardinal Gym and a non-league road clash against Albert Lea at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
ON THE ROAD — Members of the Fairmont Cardinal girls basketball team opening the season tonight by traveling to Marshall include, front row (l-r): Emily Wegener, Kristen Campe, Quincy Quiring and Kaylee Sauck. Middle row: Pauli Anderson, Madison Geerdes, Emily Kim and Ashten Atzenhoefer. Back row: Manager Jess Koskovich, Tracy Thiesse, Alex Christianson, Kayla Lardy, Sierra Schrader and Sierra Schultz. Photo by Leanna Becker
"Right now, they're just getting used to playing with each other," Waletich added. "We still want to play hard-nosed defense and an uptempo style of basketball."
Junior center Kayla Lardy and sophomore guard Sierra Schultz return to the hardwood court after topping the Cardinals' statistical charts in two defensive categories a year ago. The 6-foot-1 Lardy blocked 23 shots from the heart of the red-and-white's defense, while the 5-9 Schultz pocketed 32 steals in 2011-12.
Lardy also returns with the second-best scoring average - 8.3 points per game - from last season and the No. 1 rebounding clip (6.9 rpg), while Schultz netted scoring and rebounding marks of 5.2 and 3.4, respectively.
Junior sharpshooter Kristen Campe also will rejoin Lardy and Schultz as part-time starters from last campaign's revolving-door rotation. The 5-7 Campe averaged 6.6 points per outing, including sinking a team-leading 20 shots from 3-point range.
Waletich anticipates that Alex Christianson, a 5-10 sophomore forward, and 5-5 sophomore guard Emily Kim will look to earn more minutes after logging limited time in 13 and nine varsity games, respectively, last season.
"Alex, Emily and Kayla all played a lot of basketball over the summer," said Waletich.
The senior trio of forwards Emily Wegener and Tracy Thiesse, and guard Kaylee Sauck, also will vie for playing time.
Sierra Schrader, a 5-9 sophomore forward/guard, and 5-10 junior wing Madison Geerdes, along with the junior trio of Pauli Anderson, Quincy Quiring and Ashten Atzenhoefer, also will compete for playing time.
"Hopefully, everyone will understand and accept their roles this season, and in turn, we'll keeping improving each game," said Waletich, whose lineup posted a 14-10 overall record last season. "Once we accomplish that, we'll gain some confidence. We hope to be playing our best ball at the end of the season, and then we can make another run in the playoffs."
Fairmont will receive its first taste of sectional competition when the Cardinals play host to Class AAA state qualifier Worthington on Tuesday, Dec. 4, at Cardinal Gym in a nonconference clash.
"You have to consider Worthington the favorite in the section until someone proves they can beat them," said Waletich, whose lineup lost a last-second 55-53 decision to the Trojans in the sub-section final. "I think Jackson (County Central) and Martin County West will be tough, too."
Sara Junkermeier will be the Cardinals' varsity assistant coach this season, with Steve Janssen returning as the B-squad mentor and Sara Gudahl handling the C-squad coaching duties.