FAIRMONT - Fairmont girls basketball mentor Don Waletich hopes to pick up this season where his Cardinal hoopsters left off last March.
Fairmont rebounded from a disappointing December by winning 10 of its last 13 games of the regular season to eventually reach the .500 plateau - 13-13 overall - by season's end.
"We hope to start off better than last year," the Cardinals' sixth-year head coach said in reference to only two wins during its initial 11 games of 2012-13. "Obviously, you want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the season, and that's what we were able to do last year.
BACK TO THE BASKET — Members of the Fairmont Cardinal girls basketball team tipping off the season by hitting the road to Worthington on Tuesday night include, front row (l-r): Manager Jess Koskovich, Haley Harder, Kristen Campe, Emily Kim, Emily Kloeckner and Sophie Brau. Back row: Pauli Anderson, Alex Christianson, Courtney Mosloski, Kayla Lardy, Marisa Nelson, Sierra Schultz and Sierra Schrader. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
"With the majority of our players with varsity experience returning this season, we've been able to work on refining our fundamentals in practice."
Kayla Lardy, a 6-foot-1 senior center, and 5-11 junior power forward Alex Christianson - a pair of All-Area and all-South Central Conference choices - rejoin a nine-player cast of court-savvy veterans when Fairmont opens the season by traveling to Worthington on Tuesday night for a nonconference clash.
"Alex and Kayla put in the time during the summer, and are looking to have good years again," Waletich said in reference to his talented twin towers.
Lardy returns for her fourth and final varsity campaign after topping the Cardinals' statistical charts in five main categories a year ago - scoring (11.9 points per game), rebounding (9.4 rpg), assists (53), steals (47) and blocked shots (34).
Meanwhile, Christianson delivered an impressive debut as a regular varsity starter in 2012-13, delivering the red-and-white lineup's No. 2 marks in both scoring (11.7 ppg) and rebounding (5.9 rpg) to complement 39 steals and 27 assists from the frontcourt.
Kristen Campe, a 5-7 senior, along with 5-9 junior Sierra Schultz and 5-5 junior Emily Kim, all return to Fairmont's backcourt this winter after logging significant minutes a year ago.
"Campe has been working hard and looks good in practice," said Waletich. "We're looking for an all-conference season from her this year."
Campe steps onto the hardwood court with the Cardinals' third-best scoring clip - 10.0 ppg - from last season, along with 27 steals and 25 assists.
The fleet-footed Schultz returns with solid all-around numbers of 5.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per outing to complement 44 assists and 34 steals.
Kim will likely put Fairmont's offense in motion from the point guard spot, with senior post Pauli Anderson, junior wing Sierra Schrader and sophomore guard Haley Harder contributing key minutes on the court again.
The sophomore trio of Marisa Nelson, Emily Kloeckner and Sophie Brau - all varsity newcomers - round out the opening-day roster.
"We have nine players, at some point, who can and likely will start for us, depending on the situation," said Waletich. "We'll go with the rotations that are working at the time.
"Our depth is definitely one of our strengths this season."
Waletich anticipates defending champion Waseca and St. Peter being top rivals in the conference race, with nonconference neighbor Martin County West representing the favorite in the Section 3AA, South Sub-Section tournament.
"Our goal is to get better every day in practice, work hard in every game, and everything else takes care of itself," said Waletich. "We'd definitely like to be in the mix in both the conference and section."