CLEAR LAKE — When you’ve made it down to the state tournament in three out of the past four years, goals start to change within a basketball program. Just getting there isn’t enough anymore, and that’s the boat Clear Lake is in as it prepares to make another run.
“The big team goal is getting past the first round of state, but I think we can do that with this group,” Clear Lake senior Chloe Mueller said. “I feel like we’re just close this year and we have the ability. We just have to believe we can as a team.”
In those three trips the Lions are 0-3 in Wells Fargo Arena. It’s a record they’ve kind of soured on.
But with a load back from last year’s team which fell to eventual Class 3A champion Pocahontas Area, they feel they’re right on the edge of doing so.
“Our goal is always to be the best we can be at the end,” Clear Lake coach Bart Smith said. “We’ve been there three of the past four years which tastes pretty good, but we have been 0-3 down there. Our girls have set the bar higher now and we want to get past that first round.”
The conversation revolving around Clear Lake, which opened the season ranked third in 3A, to start this season is how can the Lions replace Emily Snelling, an all-state player who scored nearly 20 points per game? Sure, they were without her for their postseason run, but Snelling was still a leader of this team.
Smith said that one of the points of contention early on is trying to find that leader. Maybe not in terms of scoring, but in all other facets. It’s part of the reason, he said, they have gotten off to a slow start in their scrimmages.
But what the Lions do have is a wealth of young talent that they are excited about.
In Snelling’s absence last season, freshman Sara Faber stepped up and became one of the Lions’ leading scorers at 11.8 per game. Now a sophomore, she’ll be counted on a bit more.
“I’m still kind of nervous because I’m still younger, but it’s easier because I am closer with the team now,” Faber said.
With her help, Clear Lake was a force on defense all season. While that has always been a hallmark of Smith’s teams at Clear Lake, he’s counting on a bit more in the offensive department this season with the continued growth of the young girls who played last season.
Mueller, Jordyn Barragy and Gretchen Jones are the senior leaders. Faber, Julia Merfeld, along with a host of other sophomores and incoming freshmen, will all be counted on in some form.
“They’re talented, but it’s just going to be fun to watch them get things,” Smith said. “And then when they get it is when it’s going to be really fun for them. Just watching them grow and be good by the end of the year is going to be the fun part because we have some girls who can shoot the ball.”
Smith is also excited by the depth of this team, but he and all the Lions know that there’s still work to be done before they can start talking state tournament again.
“We did count on Emily to make a lot of the points for us, but this year I feel like we’re more well-rounded in a way,” Mueller said. “We’ve got some girls who can shoot the 3, girls that drive, but we just got have to work on finishing our layups."
Added Faber, “I’m really excited. We have a lot of the returners and I think we’ll do pretty good this year.”