The Northland Pines girls basketball team is looking to improve on last year’s 4-14 record, with coach Josh Olivotti looking to five returning letterwinners and several underclassmen to make that happen during the 2021-’22 season.

“As far as bouncing back this season, it is really important that our team is looking at this year as a fresh start,” said Olivotti. “We obviously want to build off the court experience that our underclassmen got last year, but it really is a new start. We will have a very different player rotation at the varsity level this year, so we are focused on getting them comfortable on the floor together.”

Returning letterwinners for the Eagles are seniors Samantha Huelskamp and Carly Huelskamp, and juniors Emily Rottier-Douangmala, Hadley Olivotti and Kelty Neff.

“The players have a stronger mindset than in the past when it comes to winning games and they are focusing on what we have to do to get there,” said coach Olivotti. “This starts with our defensive focus and the girls are off to a very good start with that and I expect us to be stronger in this area.”

The Eagles, who were 0-10 in the Great Northern Conference (GNC) last season, gave up 66.8 points per game and scored just 33.3 points per contest in a very competitive GNC. He expects another strong group teams in the GNC.

“I think most conference coaches are looking at Lakeland and Mosinee as the top two teams. They are both very good pressing teams who turn defense into offense quickly and can score well attacking the rim,” said Olivotti. “Medford returns all but one and they play hard, physical defense with a great interior presence. Rhinelander is still one of the most disciplined teams in the league and very fundamentally sound. They do lack depth this year and where their scoring is coming from is not going to be as predictable as in the past.”

Olivotti believes the Eagles will rely on collective leadership rather than one or two clear leaders.

“This has been the dynamic in the gym thus far and it has been great. We have seniors, juniors and sophomores on varsity who are being vocal and leading with work ethic,” said Olivotti. “We are excited to have Samantha Huelskamp back on the floor this season after missing her the past two years with knee injuries. She is an athletic guard who has a knack for scoring in a variety of ways and she will handle a lot of the point guard responsibilities for us.”

In the forward position, Olivotti is looking to Neff and Carly Huelskamp to lead the Eagles.

“Kelty can score on the interior and has a nice jump shot. We just need the consistency with this. Carly is a very active forward who is a tough physical matchup for a lot of teams. She can rebound well and is very tough around the basket when she has the ball in her hands,” said the coach.

Coach Olivotti said Hadley Olivotti and Rottier-Douangmala are two of the Eagles’ best defenders.

“They really get after it on the court. We are looking for them to anchor our defense and, as juniors, bring a little more scoring than in the past,” he said.

The coach said the goals this year are geared towards the big picture of winning more games and creating a more competitive program.

“It starts with the goal of being a much tougher defensive team and then being efficient on offense by reducing our turnovers,” said coach Olivotti. “In the past few seasons, we have really beaten ourselves more than anything and this group is focused on changing that.”

One concern going into the season is the Eagles’ interior defense and scoring, although he could get help from two underclassmen.

“But I think sophomore Aubrey Beyer is ready to take a huge step for us. She gives us height on the floor and she is a very intelligent player with a nice jump shot. We will need her in order to be successful,” said Olivotti.

“Emma Weber is another sophomore who we are looking at to take a big step. She has a beautiful jump shot and has shown some excellent offensive flashes in practices thus far. If we can get her rolling on offense, it will make us a better team and more difficult to guard,” said the coach.

The Pines girls were scheduled to open the season on Tuesday of this week with a nonconference game against Three Lakes. The first GNC game will be at Antigo Tuesday, Nov. 30, starting at 7:15 p.m. The Eagles will then host Tomahawk Friday, Dec. 3, also at 7:15 p.m.

Olivotti said he is excited about the new season and the teams effort since practice started a little over a week ago.

“When you look at our varsity roster, we are still a fairly young team, but this group is hungry to change how the win column looks for us,” said the coach. “It is going to take a little time yet to put everything in place, but it is exciting to think about what this group is capable of doing this season.”