The Three Lakes girls basketball team will be looking to hit the ground running this week as they attempt to build off what was a historic season in 2020-’21.

Last year’s team set records while battling through the COVID-19 pandemic, placed a modest third in the Northern Lakes Conference and then proceeded to run through the Division 4 playoff field to reach the WIAA State Tournament finals.

In route to the State championship game a group of four players, who remain on this year’s team, can vividly remember ending the Blackhawk Warriors 72-game win streak in the Division 4 State semifinals. So too does last year’s assistant coach Michele Brown, who steps back into the head coaches position this season as the team gets their season underway, Nov. 23.

“The girls program is without a doubt coming off one of the most successful, if not the most successful, seasons in girl’s basketball history here,” said Brown. “Nine of this year’s team members got to experience that, whether they were on the court or supporting their teammates from the sidelines. That’s something that they will always remember. That experience is what I am hoping will help carry this team to another winning season. These kids know what it felt like to win at a very high level, on a big stage. Repeating a season like that is very, very difficult, but it certainly can be done.”

One of the toughest tasks for both the Bluejays and Brown will be replacing two 1,000 point scorers in Taylor Kolling and Sydney Lurvey who each graduated. One big piece of the puzzle though coming back for her senior year is point guard Kara Sowinski who quarterbacked last year’s team.

“I truly believe without Kara running the court last year, our team doesn’t make it to the state championships,” said Brown. “And many people would agree. She is in my mind not only the best point guard in our conference, but one of the best in the State. She is the floor leader and our team will go as she goes.”

Sowinski possesses an uncanny ability to pass, drive to the basket and score according to Brown.

“And her defense is second to none,” she said. “She led the conference in assists last year, and had the third most in the State.”

Also returning from playing a major part on the team last year are seniors Mari Szews and Sara Gruszynski.

“We are expecting a lot of good things from these two post players,” said Brown. “Although we lost two solid inside players in Emily Fink and Mollee Gruszynski, Mari and Sara were both in the post rotation and played major roles on last year’s team. We are expecting a lot more scoring inside this year. They will need to continue to work on their confidence and playing aggressively. They should be one of the tougher post duos in the conference to try to defend.”

Brown said their length and experience will make them very tough on the defensive end as well. The team will also have Kallie Volk returning, who Brown said can score from the outside and on the run.

“Kallie’s length on defense will also be tough for opposing teams to work around,” said Brown.

Brown said senior Olivia Terlizzi, junior Karlee Weavers and sophomores Kaya Szews and Jenna Erickson will all have major rolls to play as well.

“All four are capable of scoring in different ways,” she said.

In the Northern Lakes, Crandon is coming off back-to-back league titles, and again will factor into the conversation for the crown this year along with Laona-Wabeno.

“Beating both of these teams is one of our goals,” said Brown. “We haven’t beat Crandon in five years, and it’s been a couple years since we beat Laona-Wabeno. While we lost some valuable players, so did they. We have to find a way to take care of the ball and deal with the man-to-man defense they both play. We’ve been working on that in the first few weeks and will continue to.”

As is the case with any new season, Brown said there is a learning curve for almost the entire team as they familiarize themselves again, learn each others tendencies and implement new formations, defensive rotations and other skills.

“Our biggest challenge is getting the girls familiar with each other on the court,” said Brown. “The girls need to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and learn to trust each other. We believe our defense will be stronger and our scoring will come from a variety of players. We will need contributions from everyone in order to have another successful season.”

After opening the nonconference season on the road in Eagle River this past Tuesday night, the team will host Phillips, Nov. 30. The Northern Lakes Conference season will begin Friday, Dec. 3 when the team hits the road to face Laona-Wabeno.