Lakeland’s Abby Parris averaged over 17 points a game and was a second-team all-conference selection.
Lakeland’s Abby Parris averaged over 17 points a game and was a second-team all-conference selection.
It was a bittersweet year for the Lakeland girls’ basketball team in 2018-19. But more sweet than bitter.

The Thunderbirds went 15-9 overall and finished second in the Great Northern Conference with a 9-3 league mark. The team beat Merrill to reach the regional finals where they fell to eventual sectional champions Hortonville.

Lakeland was a force to be reckoned with all year, causing problems for ball handlers throughout the conference with a full court press that was executed masterfully game after game.

Lakeland made getting the ball across half court a task for much of their competition, and most of their GNC opponents crumbled under the pressure.

The Thunderbirds led the GNC with 20.6 steals a game.

However, Lakeland’s 29 game conference winning streak came to an end when Rhinelander defeated them 59-45 in the conference opener. 

The Hodags would get the better of the Thunderbirds again later in the season, beating them 81-63 at Rhinelander.  

Those two losses, and one to Medford, brought an end to Lakeland’s two year reign as conference champions. 

Nonetheless, there was enough exquisite play by the T-Birds to make the season special, including some milestones for the program.

Sophomore Amaya White broke the single season record for 3-pointers in a game when she hit seven of them in a 78-74 loss to Unity on Dec. 27.

Senior Melissa Bruckner surpassed 1,500 career points this season, finishing with an astounding total of 1,580.

Bruckner averaged more than 20 points a game and led the Thunderbird attack by owning the high and low post all year. Opponents simply could not stop her slashing across the middle.  

She also had a league leading 83 conference steals, 6.9 a game, as she was a major component of Lakeland’s lethal full court trap.

Lakeland head coach Melissa Ouimette said Bruckner will be greatly missed.

“That’s a lot of offense and defense to replace next year. Her leadership was also very important to the team’s success. She encouraged her teammates when they were down and pushed them to be their best. Those are great qualities to have in a leader,” Ouimette said. “She has started, played and scored in all 92 varsity games during her four year high school years.  I don’t think you can say that about another basketball player in the state.”

Bruckner was a unanimous first team all-conference selection.

Lakeland also got a phenomenal year from junior Abby Parris. Parris was a threat all year from outside and driving the lane and was a major outlet on the fast break in Lakeland’s transition game.  She averaged more than 16 points a game and had 41 steals in conference play.

“Every team we play against has a game plan on how to defend Abby Parris,” Ouimette said. “If you leave her open, she will make you pay for it by draining threes from the outside or by driving to the rim. I am counting on her to help lead this team with scoring next year.”

Parris was a second team all-conference selection.

Senior guard Emma Salquist also made the all conference list as an honorable mention. Salquist averaged 6.2 points a game and was a major player in the full court press.

“Emma played with 110 percent heart and hustle. She crashed the boards, harassed ball handlers, drove into the paint against big girls and looked to shoot outside to relieve some pressure off of Melissa Bruckner inside,” Ouimette said of Salquist. “She was also a very valuable leader that has a great calming effect for her teammates.”

Lakeland also got strong play down low this season from sophomore Camille Quade and freshman Joeli Koehler, who along with Parris and White will return next year. 

“The 2018-19 team was a fun and exciting team to watch and a joy to coach,” Ouimette said. “These girls worked as a team as they encouraged one another, worked hard, shared the ball, ran the floor, and applied full court pressure 36 minutes a game. Many people have told me how much fun it was to watch our girls play and I couldn’t agree more. It was an honor and privilege to coach these girls and I couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishments.”

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