By PATRICK SLACK
A year after advancing to the section finals for the first time in school history, the Upsala girls basketball team hopes for another first this winter: a trip to state.
To do so, the Cardinals will need to replace three starters from a team that went 28-2 overall and a perfect 16-0 in the Prairie Conference last year.
However, Upsala does bring back a pair of senior standouts to help ease the transition period: Aimee Pelzer at guard and Tracy Herzog at post.
Pelzer, last year’s Record Player of the Year, averaged 21 points and eight assists per game and Herzog averaged 12.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game a year ago.
Players looking to join them in the starting lineup as well as fill out the rotation are seniors Sadie Welinski (guard) and Alissa Zehrer (post), juniors Kaelin Smieja (forward) and Katie Ripplinger (guard) and sophomores Brooke Westrich (guard), Danica Cheney (guard), Sara Herzog (guard) and Kristin Wuebkers (guard).
“We hope to repeat as conference champions and to go further in sections and win it this year,” Upsala head coach Paul Pelzer said.
Upsala’s top competition in the Prairie Conference will likely be Osakis and Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (LPGE), Pelzer said, with Pine River-Backus, Isle, Sebeka and Bertha-Hewitt conteding with the Cardinals in the section.
“After losing three starters from a 28-2 season last year, we are in a rebuilding year,” Pelzer said. “If we stay healthy and keep our fouls under control, we should be a very competitive team.”
“I think we will be a little quicker than last year, but we need to find some scorers who will replace the girls that we lost through graduation,” he said. “It should be another exciting year.”
Graduating from last year’s team were Kimmy Mrozek, Kaitlyn Wuebkers, Donna Ripplinger, Brianna Westrich, Melissa George and Dawn Evoniuk.
Seniors on this year’s team include Pelzer, Tracy Herzog, Welinski and Zehrer.
Upsala begins the season ranked seventh in Class A and opens its schedule at LPGE, Tuesday.