Special to The Free Press
There's no doubt that Mankato Loyola senior post Alyssa Mettler is attempting to lose here nice-girl image as an improving Crusaders' squad preparees for Friday's season-opener at Cleveland.
After being a part of a major turnaround a year ago, Mettler has worked hard on honing her skills over the summer and looks for her new, more aggressive style of play to benefit the Crusaders this season. Loyola finished 14-14 last season after going 0-25 the previous season.
“We learned how to play as a team last year,” Mettler said following a recent practice. “Now, we’re more comfortable with each other, and things are going to work even better this year. We know how each other plays so that will help us improve even more. Our guards our really fast, and they know how to penetrate.
“I try to stay positive and bring a good attitude to the team. I don't like people who yell on the court because it just brings everyone down. I am more comfortable at being aggressive and more of a presence inside.”
Mettler averaged 5.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game last year for the Crusaders, who return all but one player from last season.
“Alyssa came in last year a little soft and not really knowing how to use her body,” second-year coach Rick Theuninck said. “She’s a strong girl who got more physical and started finishing around the basket. That kind of inspired her to put in some time over the summer, and it’s showing. She's a tremendous leader and one of the hardest workers on the team."
While Mettler and junior Annie Nawrocki (4.8 points and 6.4 rebounds a game) will anchor the interior, a speedy four-guard attack of juniors Aunikah Bastian, Jordyn Theuninck and Jordyn Strachan along with eighth-grader Lindsay Theuninck will cause opponents plenty of problems. Lindsay Theuninck averaged 8.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.7 steals and 2.8 assists last season.
“We have a lot of quickness in the backcourt,” coach Theuninck said. “We need to work on our rebounding. Our lack of defensive rebounding killed us last year, and if we don’t improve on that, it’s going to beat us again this year.
“These girls weren't really involved in that winless year, but they were still part of the program so they had to start believing they could win. They had to figure out a way to win, and now they expect to win. This is a bunch of kids who like each other and want to come out and compete every day.”
Strachan averaged 6.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists a year ago, while Bastian and Jordyn Theuninck each scored 6.7 points per contest. Bastian also came up with 5.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Senior Mary Pfau and Sam Larsen should see action off the bench while juniors Grace Hermer, Kelly Headington and Lindsay Solheid complete the varsity roster.
“We just need to run our plays and trust our offense,” Mettler said. “If we get too into the moment we tend to speed up too much. I need to relax and feel comfortable so I can make some shots for my team.”