The Lakeland girls basketball team’s full court defensive pressure is a beast, frustrating teams and eventually wearing them down. That was the case Friday, Jan. 1 at Tomahawk, and while the host Hatchets did find some success against the daunting press in the first half, they couldn’t withstand it all game, and Lakeland’s troublesome traps held Tomahawk to just 11 second half points to secure a 67-38 victory.

But it wasn’t easy, especially in the first half. After jumping out to an 8-0 start thanks to a couple quick three-pointers by Emma Salquist and Vivian Trapp, Tomahawk came storming back on an 8-0 run of their own.  They did so by finding ways to get through the full court traps, which Lakeland head coach Melissa Ouimette said were vulnerable in the first half.

“We weren’t denying the cutter in the middle of our press. We stood behind her,” Ouimette said. “We were letting them pass the ball wherever they wanted and we let them rebound right over us.”

Due to Tomahawk’s early success with the press, Lakeland was not able to rely on quick points off steals and fast breaks. They were more often than not forced to play a half court offense, and Lakeland struggled to find rhythm in the face of a swarming Tomahawk defense.

“We were flat and slow defensively and that translates right over to offense,” Ouimette said. “We weren’t hitting our outside shots at all, even worse, we weren’t getting any second attempts.” 

Lakeland had to fight and claw for every hoop while Tomahawk seemed to quickly capitalize each time they were able to break the press.

But, with the help of 12 first half points from Abby Parris, the Thunderbirds were at least able to keep a 10-point distance from the Hatchets most of the half, and at the break the score was 39-27.

At halftime, Ouimette challenged her players to increase their defensive pressure and aggressiveness in rebounding.

“I told them they need to pick it up defensively and on the boards,” she said. “That seemed to fuel the fire and intensity of our defense for the second half.”

Did it ever. Under another half of relentless pressure, Tomahawk eventually lost their handle on the press break. Lakeland was able to make the adjustments that caused the steady amount of turnovers and fast breaks they are used to playing with.

Lakeland’s Melissa Bruckner capitalized the most off the slew of turnovers the Thunderbirds began causing. She was held to just seven points in the first, but had 16 in the second when she had space to run and gun on fast breaks, and though they struggled with outside shooting in the second half, the T-Birds were able to pile on the points off transition layups or put-backs off rebounds.

“We still weren’t making our outside shots, but managed to get up by 25-30 by just giving more effort on defense and rebounding,” Ouimette said.  

That extra effort kept Tomahawk on the run and Lakeland refused to allow the Hatchets to set up for good shots. This resulted in the T-Birds holding Tomahawk to just 11 in the second half and the Lakeland ran away with the game 67-38.

Melissa Bruckner led all scorers with 23. Abby Parris pitched in 13 for the T-Birds and both Camille Quade and Joeli Koehler had seven.

Sierra Graeber led Tomahawk with 18 points, while Jennifer DuPlayee and Emily Maki each had five.

With the win Lakeland improves to 11-6 overall and 7-2 in the Great Northern Conference. They are in second place behind undefeated Rhinelander who is 8-0.

Next up for the T-Birds is a game against Medford at home tonight at 7:15 p.m.

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