Cardinal girls cagers return solid nucleus

READY FOR TIPOFF — Members of the Fairmont Cardinal girls basketball team tipping off the season tonight by playing host to Class 3A No. 9-ranked Waseca at Cardinal Gym include, front row (l-r): Whitney Scott, Chloe Murphy, Maggy Totzke, Lexi Lunn, Brooke Hunwardsen and Cambrie Anderson. Back row: Taylor Crissinger, Brenna Cutler, Alli Lardy, Claire Cutler and Abby Tonder. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)

FAIRMONT — The 2017-18 edition of the Fairmont Cardinals girls basketball program will feature numerous familiar faces in modified roles this season.

Sara Junkermeier, who has coached at the seventh-grade, eighth-grade and B-squad levels in addition to serving as a varsity assistant in Fairmont, tips off her first campaign as the Cardinals’ varsity mentor tonight when the Class 3A, No. 9-ranked Waseca Bluejays venture to Cardinal Gym.

Junkermeier, who first joined former Fairmont head coach Patti Strukel’s staff in 1999 and later served as an assistant on Don Waletich’s 2015 Class AA state-qualifying team, replaces Waletich along the sideline this winter.

“I’ve coached the majority of these players when they were sophomores and freshmen, so that should make for a smoother transition at this level,” said Junkermeier, a former basketball standout at Armstrong-Ringsted High School and Augustana College. “I know their abilities, and they know what I expect from them as a coach.”

Junkermeier inherits six of last season’s seven top players that produced an 11-15 overall record, including a 68-50 Section 2AA, South Sub-Section quarterfinal victory over Medford before losing to Waterville-Elysian-Morristown in the semifinals, 67-59.

The senior co-captain foursome of Brenna Cutler, Claire Cutler, Brooke Hunwardsen and Alli Lardy — along with the junior tandem of Taylor Crissinger and Lexi Lunn — all return to the hardwood court after either earning a starting role or delivering key minutes off the bench in 2016-17.

“We have a solid nucleus back and they’re physically skilled, but we need to build our mental toughness,” said Junkermeier. “The question will be whether we can finish (games) strong when we’re not that deep (11 varsity players).”

The Cardinals will likely hold a height advantage over most opponents when they step onto the court with Lardy (6-foot-2), the Cutler twins (both 6-feet even) and the 6-foot Crissinger.

Crissinger combined her lean-and-long frame with her perimeter prowess to generate team-leading numbers of 9.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game to earn all-Big South Conference East Division accolades a year ago.

Claire Cutler netted honorable mention all-conference divisional accolades on the strength of 8.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, while Brenna Cutler contributed 5.5 points and 4.1 rebounds from the low post.

The Cutlers, along with Lardy — who tallied 3.7 points and 2.6 rebounds in limited minutes last season — will form a solid frontcourt again, with 6-foot junior Abby Tonder working into the low-post mix.

Crissinger will rejoin Hunwardsen, who topped the Cardinals in assists (58) and steals (72) in 2016-17, and the fleet-footed Lunn — 6.0 ppg, 54 assists and 50 steals — in comprising Fairmont’s backcourt.

Junior wing Whitney Scott, along with the sophomore tandem of Chloe Murphy and Cambrie Anderson, and eighth-grade guard Maggy Totzke, will round out the red-and-white’s opening-day 11-player varsity roster.

“Chloe, Cambrie and Maggy will start off the season by playing some B-squad minutes, too, to sharpen their skills,” said Junkermeier. “Our roster isn’t set in stone, so we’ll be looking at a number of the younger players and how they develop as the season progresses.”

Chris Voss, who has coached in the Fairmont boys basketball program, will serve as Junkermeier’s varsity assistant, while Ashley Scheevel and Sara Gudahl will coach at the B- and C-squad levels, respectively.

“Our staff is working on reinforcing the basics of the game, while trying to teach our players to work hard every day in practice and be good teammates to one another,” said Junkermeier. “We (players and coaches) have to be prepared for every team we face every time we take the court.

“Our main goal is to get better each and every day, and be playoff ready when that time comes.”

Junkermeier anticipates Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and Blue Earth Area as top rivals in the South Sub-Section postseason, while Class 2A No. 4-ranked Norwood Young America will likely be considered the overall favorite in the section.