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Fairmont girls basketball to rebuild around solid core

TIPPING OFF — Members of the Fairmont Cardinal girls basketball team tipping off the 2022-23 season by traveling to Windom on Tuesday night include, front row (l-r): Rubi Reyes, Abi Peyman, Anna Ehlert and Olivia Ortega. Middle row: Ava Terfehr, Hope Klanderud, Elayna Anderson, Anna Busche, Tiffany Lowry and Ellie Ortega. Back row: Kate Busche, Abby Cihoski, Grace Pendergast, Jazlyn Geerdes, Nevaeh Rahm and Brylee Miller. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)

FAIRMONT — A majority of high school basketball coaches would be hard-pressed at being openly optimistic after graduating all five starters from a section finalist squad.

Sara Junkermeier, however, maintains a positive outlook despite the challenges of rebuilding a Fairmont varsity girls hoops lineup that produced a 24-4 overall record and an appearance in the Section 3AA championship game in 2021-22.

“We don’t have a lot of returning varsity experience, but this group of girls just loves to be in the gym every day and that’s half the battle,” said Junkermeier, who guided the Cardinals to a runner-up finish of 8-2 in the Big South Conference last season. “I believe we have just as much potential as last year’s team. Now the task at hand will be to build team chemistry and figure out how to put all the pieces to the puzzle together.”

Junkermeier will build the foundation for this winter campaign’s rotation by turning to key reserves who logged quality time for the Cardinals a year ago.

“(Senior) Kate Busche probably has the most minutes back from last season, and can contribute in a number of different ways on the court,” said Junkermeier. “She’s a good shooter from the perimeter, but also is strong taking it to the basket.”

The junior tandem of Grace Pendergast and Ava Terfehr, along with senior Olivia Ortega and freshman Brylee Miller, will rejoin Kate Busche on the hardwood court after logging solid minutes off the bench last season.

The 5-foot-10 Pendergast returns the best scoring clip at 4.3 points per outing — including 18 trifectas, to complement 52 rebounds and 19 steals from the 2021-22 campaign.

“Grace can be a long quick guard for us, but can also play at the 3 (small forward) and maybe a 4 (power forward) spot because of her height and knowledge of the game,” said Junkermeier.

After playing limited minutes due to her battle with cancer a year ago, Terfehr returns a solid 3.5-point scoring average, including a dozen 3-pointers, from last winter.

“It’s great to have Ava return for an entire season at full strength after having been limited due to her health a year ago,” said Junkermeier. “She and Grace play well off of each other, so it’ll be nice to have that combination back intact.”

Olivia Ortega, who will join fellow seniors Allison Janssen and Anna Ehlert as the Cardinals’ co-captains, brings a hard-working physical presence to Fairmont’s lineup.

“Olivia goes hard every possession and never takes a play off,” said Junkermeier. “She can handle the basketball, but she’s strong enough to work down low, too.”

Miller, who earned varsity minutes as an eighth-grader last winter, represents another one of the Cardinals’ versatile multi-taskers who can play a number of positions.

“Brylee’s good at getting to the rim, but she’s also worked at improving her outside shot,” said Junkermeier. “It’s hard to believe she’s only a freshman, especially considering how much basketball she has played to this point and that’s a lot.”

Fairmont’s sixth-year head coach also will utilize 5-10 junior Nevaeh Rahm, 5-11 senior Jazlyn Geerdes and 5-10 senior Abby Cihoski in the low blocks this season.

“Nevaeh is coming back from an injury, but has a lot of potential to dominate in the post, Jazlyn is very athletic and has success in track & field and volleyball, while Abby always works hard every time she steps onto the court,” said Junkermeier.

Senior Anna Busche, sophomore Ellie Ortega and juniors Elayna Anderson, Hope Klanderud, Abi Peyman, Rubi Reyes and Tiffany Lowry will round out the Cardinals’ varsity roster to tip off the season.

“I can’t tell you what our starting lineup will be for our season-opener at Windom on Tuesday night, but our preseason scrimmage against Forest City (Iowa) should help us figure things out some,” said Junkermeier. “Right now, we’re a work in progress.”

Fairmont will be road warriors this season, playing just nine games at Cardinal Gym, while hitting the road for the other 13 regular-season contests.

Junkermeier anticipates St. Peter and New Ulm being the early favorites in the Big South Conference, while Luverne will likely represent the top challenge in Section 3AA play.

“One of our goals is to make daily progress as a team, and in turn, be better at playoff time than we were to start the regular season,” said Junkermeier, whose coaching staff returns Sara Gudahl, Terry Ehlert and Claire Hagstrom as assistants.

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