Jacob friede/lakeland times

Lakeland’s Joeli Koehler shoots over her Waupaca defender during Lakeland’s 64-24 regional semi-final win. Koehler scored 10 points for the T-Birds and was 8-8 from the free throw line.
Jacob friede/lakeland times

Lakeland’s Joeli Koehler shoots over her Waupaca defender during Lakeland’s 64-24 regional semi-final win. Koehler scored 10 points for the T-Birds and was 8-8 from the free throw line.
The Lakeland girls basketball team got off on the right track in the WIAA state tournament.

On Tuesday night at home, in the opening round of the tournament, the Thunderbirds beat the visiting Comets of Waupaca 64-24.

Waupaca struggled mightily with Lakeland’s press all night. The Thunderbirds trapped the Comets wherever they went and generally made life miserable for Waupaca ball handlers.

Lakeland’s storm of steals and forced turnovers resulted in an 18-2 run to begin the game.

But a big factor in the huge lead was the control with which Lakeland played when they were on the fast break.

“There was some times tonight where probably in the past you would have seen us just take it right in and go maybe turn it over, but tonight sometimes we’d recognize that we didn’t have the numbers or we saw a better opportunity so we’d pull it out a little bit,” Lakeland head coach Melissa Ouimette said. “So that’s what we were doing tonight.  We’re working on playing smart, and I thought we did that several times tonight, which was a nice move forward.”

Lakeland Senior Melissa Bruckner caused the most damage for Lakeland and most of her work came in the first half where she scored 15 of her 20 points.

Most of her buckets were in the paint, on layups off steals or from cutting and slashing in the middle of the lane, which she owned.

According to Ouimette, Bruckner’s production on Tuesday night was just another example of how her overall game has laid foundation for the Lakeland attack all season.

“I think she’s just incredible with how she is averaging over 20 points a game, over 1,500 points in her career, yet in the conference she stands second for assists per game,” Ouimette said. “She stands first for steals per game. So not only is she a scorer, she shares the ball. She helps us get so many other points. If you take her steals per game and you add that to all the assists that she gives out per game,  80 percent of our points come from some action that Bruckner has done.”

But Waupaca couldn’t only concentrate on Bruckner because Lakeland’s Abby Parris, who scored 16 in the game, was also unstoppable on the fast break. Parris took her fair share of steals in for lay-up after lay-up and at the break the Thunderbirds had established a 44-8 lead. 

Off the bench Joeli Koehler was a factor as well. The freshman forward used her height to grab rebounds and take on fouls, which she converted into points at the line. Koehler was 8-8 from the free throw line and scored 10 total points. 

“Joeli got some rebonds tonight and made all her free throws,” Ouimette said. “Joeli is a good athlete. She’s going to be a great player for us. She just needs to keep learning the system and taking in everything that we’re giving her.”

In the second half Waupaca still struggled to get the ball across half court, however when they did they were able to score a few buckets as they doubled their first half production and scored 16 points.

The Thunderbirds, however, never stopped scoring and the damage was done as Lakeland, who also got good contributions from Emma Salquist, scoring eight points, and Vivian Trapp, who scored five, ran away with the game 64-24.

“These games can help get your confidence up a little bit, but we still have to be prepared and go forth with the next game with the attack attitude and we’ve got to make sure that we play smart,” Ouimette said. “That’s the big thing. My kids have tons of heart, hustle and they want to get the ball and attack, attack, attack. We just have to be smart in the way that we attack.”

Lakeland improved to 14-8 overall and they ended their conference season at 9-3 in second place.

The T-Birds now travel to Merrill tonight for the regional final agains the Bluejays. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Jacob Friede may be reached at jacob@lakelandtimes.com or sports@lakelandtimes.com.