Nearly one year ago to the day, the New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva girls basketball team exited the court for the final time in a heart-breaking six-point loss to a dominant Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial team in the Section 2AA subsection finals.
But on Monday night, back inside the Taylor Center in Mankato, the Panthers and the Knights met once again. However, history managed to repeat itself and NRHEG fell just short of the Section 2AA finals after falling 68-33 to the top-seeded Knights.
The Panthers knew what to expect out of LCWM going into the game after having lost to the Knights earlier in the season, especially with some key pieces to their win over NRHEG in the 2021-22 subsection finals returning.
LCWM guards Olivia Harazin and Lauren Cooper played a massive role in knocking off the Panthers last season as juniors and the now-senior duo were just two of the offensive threats NRHEG was going to have to try to contain.
Things started out with the Knights scoring on the first possession of the game, but NRHEG senior Erin Jacobson responded at the opposite end for an early 2-2 tie. But LCWM countered with a run that saw it go up 11-2 before senior guard Sidney Schultz scored her first bucket of the game.
Schultz was NRHEG’s early spark of offense and helped the Panthers cut into LCWM’s early lead to make it a six-point game. Jacobson and junior Hallie Schultz added some additional help offensively, but it wasn’t enough to match the No. 9 ranked, one-loss Knights.
Harazin and Cooper were at the forefront of LCWM’s surge of offense, but even with focus on the senior tandem, the Knights were able to find ways to score from different options all around the court, whether it was a 3-pointer from anywhere on the perimeter or an offensive rebound leading to a putback.
The Knights jumped out to a large lead and once halftime hit, the Panthers were looking for ways to climb out of a 23-point deficit.
“LCWM has so many weapons in their arsenal we had a tough time matching up against them,” said NRHEG head coach Onika Peterson. “It seems like they couldn’t miss a basket and we struggled. We put ourselves in a hole and we couldn’t climb out of it.”
Hopes for a second-half comeback fell with the Knights still knocking down their shots while the Panthers tried to find a consistent stream of offense.
While they weren’t able to cut back into LCWM’s lead, the second half did provide a chance for multiple players to see some time on the court before the eventual season’s end.
Jacobson ended up leading NRHEG with 11 points and six rebounds. Sidney Schultz followed with eight points and Hallie Schultz followed with six points. Faith Nielsen added four points, Quinn VanMaldeghem added three points and eight rebounds, Gabby Schlaak added one point and Camryn VanMaldeghem added three rebounds and two steals.
One of the hardest parts to ending a season is saying goodbye to the seniors on the team. The Panthers saw their final game with their senior core of Sidney Schultz, Erin Jacobson and Trinity Smith Vulcan.
“I am so unbelievably proud of this group of girls,” Peterson said. All season long they kept improving, working hard and had so much fun. I can’t thank them enough for all that effort that they put in. To our seniors: Trinity, Erin and Sidney. Thank you. Thank you for all of your hard work, time, effort, and dedication that you have given to NRHEG Basketball. Your dedication to our program was crucial to our continued success. Thank you to John Schultz. He has been a wonderful coach, mentor, and friend. He has put in a lot of hard work and dedication to NRHEG sports. It has been an absolute privilege to have coached with him for the years that I did.”
NRHEG officially ends the season with a 21-6 overall record while going 11-3 against Section 2AA opponents and going 12-2 in Gopher Conference play. While they lose out on some key seniors, the Panthers are building up a young team with a bright future ahead.