CHANGING THE CULTURE: Faribault girls basketball makes long awaited return to win column
When the Faribault Falcons stepped off the court in Rochester after defeating the Rochester Century Panthers 74-70 on Feb. 4, 2020, they’d just snapped a 25-game losing skid.
From that moment on, the next 50 games, ranging across the end of the 2019-20 season and throughout the shortened 2020-21 season and 2021-22 season, were uphill battles, and the Falcons just missed out on the elusive victory a handful of times.
But on Wednesday night, inside Faribault High School, the Falcons welcomed in the Pine Island Panthers for the 2022-23 season opener. One long, tough defensive effort, well-timed baskets and making plays when needed led to a 49-38 win for Faribault and the girls first victory in just over two seasons.
“I was shocked, I was overwhelmed,” said Faribault junior post Rylee Sietsema after holding the ball at the final buzzer. “This is something new for us. We’re trying to start a new team culture, and we’re just trying to start over. It was a really exciting moment.”
“It being my senior year and haven’t having won a game in two years, it felt really good,” added senior guard Isabel Herda.
From the opening tip, the Falcons knew this team had a brand new feel. After sophomore guard Jamie Adamek scored two baskets with one from junior post Halle Rice sandwiched in, they found themselves with an early 6-0 lead.
The Falcons were able to find the right times to drive to the hoop and capitalize on their shots, but most importantly, their defensive effort left the visiting Panthers struggling to just get the ball up the court, let alone trying to find an open shot.
Faribault stuck to them like glue with a full court press, which forced plenty of turnovers, leading to buckets. Even when the Panthers managed to get the ball down the court, the Falcons continued forcing turnovers, jumping in front of passes or knocking the ball loose from the ball handler.
After an initial early timeout from Pine Island and a three-pointer to cut the then 6-0 lead down to 6-3, the Falcons started running away with things and jumped up to a 28-12 advantage with the first half starting to wind down.
As the Falcons started moving away from the full court press, and Pine Island’s gears started turning, the Panthers were able to close out the half on a stronger note. But Faribault still led 31-20 at the break, which rivaled some of its offensive ouputs from entire games in past seasons.
“We were a little nervous, just because we’d never really been up at half,” Herda said on the mood of her team. “But we held it until the very end, so that was good.”
The Falcons just needed to battle for one more half, and they’d pick up that evasive win they had hunted for for two seasons.
Pine Island tried to claw its way back into things, coming out of the gates strong in the second half and managing to cut Faribault’s lead down to as little as five points a few times. But the Falcons rekindled their strong defensive effort from the first half, and it froze the Panthers in their tracks.
The offensive game plan for Faribault as time started winding down was simple — remain patient and wait for the perfect shot to open up. Not only did the Falcons start burning off more and more time, the plan also helped them draw plenty of fouls, as the Panthers were forced to play more aggressively.
Outside of forcing turnovers and bad shots from their opponents, it was timely playmaking from up and down the roster that played the biggest role in Faribault capturing the season opening win.
Herda and Sietsema played key roles, with Herda’s team-leading 16 points and Sietsema’s 10 points and several important rebounds. But many other Falcons contributed in crucial moments, too.
“Rylee Sietsema was just awesome on the boards and played a big game for us,” said head coach Bill Bardal, who was coaching his first game back with the girls basketball team after a few years away. “But we had a lot of players step up for us tonight, and there’s a lot of excitement for the girls. I’m proud of them and how well they worked tonight.”
Adamek finished with four points from the two early baskets, but those baskets helped spark Faribault’s red hot start, along with providing a reliable ball-handler in the backcourt.
Junior forward Reagen Drengenberg finished with just two points, but her basket came during an offensive slump early in the second half and then followed it up with a steal to help swing some momentum back into Faribault’s favor.
Rice, meanwhile, finished third on the team in scoring with nine points, and she made some important second half free throws. She was also one of the players tasked with defending Pine Island’s leading scorer in Reese Koenen.
Junior guard Hailey Reuvers helped force turnovers and drew plenty of fouls for late game free throws in the second half. Eighth-grade forward Amira Williams helped come up with some big turnovers and rebounds while also helping defend Koenen.
The most important result is not necessarily the win itself, but that the team knows the wins are indeed attainable, and now the Falcons have a building block for the rest of the year.
“Now they know they can do this, and they can keep it going,” Bardal said. “We can celebrate this for 24 hours, because then we’re right back at it with Northfield.”
The Falcons were scheduled to take on the Raiders at home 7:30 p.m. Friday in Faribault.Reach sports reporter Stephen McDaniel at 507-444-2375. Follow him on Twitter @OPP__Sports . ©Copyright 2022 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.