Healthy Arrows hopeful of hitting hardwood in stride

Arinn McGee

Those following the Pipestone Area volleyball team on its run to the Class AA state tournament this fall will enjoy seeing a good chunk of that squad on the court this winter – taking larger strides in covering the breadth of the hardwood surface with the girls’ basketball team. 

The departure of longtime servant Ed Gustafson has paved the way for his young assistant Grant Everson to take the reins of the program, while volunteer ‘C’ squad coach James Skyberg will step up as his assistant and guide the ‘B’ squad’s efforts this winter. Volunteer coach Lisa Van Dyke is back to work with the program, as an assistant to both – attending home tilts and road games as often as her busy family life will allow.

“James has been in the program for a long time and his dedication shows what he thinks of these girls,” said Everson, who made his way to Pipestone three years ago after student teaching in town and making the decision with his wife to come south from Fargo, N.D. 

Everson, who coached the five seniors on the varsity team as sophomores on the ‘B’ squad, brings a unique perspective to the PAS gymnasium, having served as a student manager on the South Dakota State University men’s basketball team while earning his degree in Brookings, S.D.

“It was a ton of fun being part of such a winning program; I went to a few NCAA tournaments while I was there, and seeing how a higher-level program does it rather than what I was used to at the high school level was a great experience,” said the Slayton native. This will be my third year teaching and coaching. I had a lot of this group as sophomores, in my first coaching experience, and now I’m with them for my first season coaching varsity.  I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls; it’s been fun to go up with them and now have them as seniors on the varsity.”

Akin to what head coach Stacie Wallace has seen from senior volleyball athletes Megan Lingen, Meredith Draper and Kindra Douty in the east wing of the building, Everson is equally excited about the energy seniors Arinn McGee, Kyla Hubbling, Kayla Hubbling, Aubrea Kor and Madelyn Wiese, sophomore Mariah Moeller and freshmen Jadyn Kor and Taryn Tuinstra bring with them from their extremely successful fall campaign. 

“For sure; they had an awesome volleyball season and had a great season in softball last spring – just a successful group all the way around,” he said. “I’m excited to have them for basketball and hopefully they can have the success they didn’t really get last year due to injuries and other stuff. We gave them a couple days off after the state (volleyball) tournament, but with games already approaching, we didn’t give them too many – beginning on Wednesday this week with morning and afternoon practices.”

It’s likely the Kor sisters will form a dynamic backcourt duo for the Arrows this winter, and Everson sees the pair being interchangeable in the two (point and shooting) guard positions. Both possess not only quickness and speed, but also have deft ball-handling and passing skills. 

A sharpshooter from the perimeter, Wiese will look for open shots from the flanks, as will Kyla Hubbling, who could play anywhere from the 2 to the 4 (power forward) depending on what Everson wishes to do with the ball and in defense. 

“Madelyn will be more of a 2, and maybe even a 1 depending on what’s going on,” he said. “And Kyla can get inside and rebounds very well. So, we might see her in a variety of spots throughout the season.”

Madelyn Wiese

“Down low, Kayla Hubbling and Arinn McGee are big, tall, powerful girls. So, we’ll definitely keep them down low in the post. But we’ve been looking at some things where we’ll see Kayla out on the perimeter. She’s a pretty good shooter and can go off the dribble when something opens up. If she has a bigger post guarding her, she’s quicker than most, so we could see her float inside-to-outside and back again.”

And coming back for her first full season of basketball since suffering a bad fracture during the 2021-22 volleyball campaign, Kayla Hubbling appears to be back in healthy form.

“Yes; to me it’s night-and-day from last year to this year, already, with her jumping and lateral movement coming off that terrible injury,” Everson said. “I expected that from what I saw from her during volleyball. She had a little extra to her that we didn’t see from her toward the end of the basketball season last year. I would say she’s right back to where I remember her being on ‘B’ squad, as a sophomore… speed and quickness-wise. So, it’s going to be great having her back at full strength.”

The Arrows also have a pair of juniors with vastly different experience playing basketball. Sam Spathe and Keera Pottratz returns to the varsity squad as a post and guard, respectively, while exchange student Paula Valdivieso is out for basketball for the first time and will likely serve as a practice guard with the varsity while gaining game experience on the ‘B’ squad.

“We don’t have a ton of juniors, but Sam will come in and give Arinn and Kayla a break – whether it’s due to foul trouble or they’re just in need of break,” Everson said. “Sam will be a huge part of this team, doing that and pushing the starters and other upperclassmen in practice. Keera Pottratz will be expected to give a few strong minutes, spelling the starting guards, and giving them a push in practice. She and Sam will play big roles on this team and they’ll do whatever they can to make the team better.

“Sophomore Mariah Moeller sat varsity about midway through the year, didn’t get a ton of playing time, but was pretty successful on the ‘B’ squad. She’s a very athletic girl who we could see as a 2 or out on the wing. She’s another one who will split time between the teams. And Taryn Tuinstra, a freshman along with Jadyn, impressed me this week in practice. You can tell she’s very athletic and has good size for her age. Last year on ‘B’ squad she played primarily as a post, and she’s grown since then. She looks a lot faster than last year, maybe a little more aggressive and confident. She will be huge in practice and very well could work her way into some serious minutes with the varsity – depending on fouls and game flow. She could get thrown into a lot of games this year.”

A year Everson hopes will not only feed off the Arrows’ sensational fall campaign, but also bring this group to the heights they pictured for themselves last winter.

“They’ve had great success and, now that they’ve had it in volleyball, they’ve enjoyed success in every sport at the varsity level,” said Everson, who like most felt the Arrows were a better team than their final record of 7-18 indicated. “Last year didn’t go the way we envisioned it; we dealt with injuries all the way through, from Kayla in volleyball to Arinn getting hurt in the first game – which lingered for a lot of the year. And Madelyn dealt with a few problems throughout the year, as well. Just being healthy was a big issue for us last season, so it’s good to have them at full strength coming in. Hopefully we can keep them healthy throughout the season.”

And being at full strength and health, this group of extremely gifted athletes should be able to kick things up a notch or two.

“I plan on us playing an up-tempo game,” Everson said. “With the athletes we have, we have an advantage in a lot of positions; whether it’s a big girl on Kayla or Arinn, who they can beat with their speed and quickness, or the Kors bringing the ball up the floor. They’re very quick and good ball-handlers. I want to push the floor as much as possible, score in transition and play very hard-nosed defense.” 

Of course, coming directly off of one season and into the next doesn’t necessarily mean this group will be able to hit the ground running.

“Those who have played basketball know being in basketball shape is very different,” Everson said. “Even Paula, who ran cross country, said, ‘this is way different than cross country.’ We’re getting them back into basketball game shape, but with those seniors I don’t anticipate us being a very deep team – going five-in, five-out like you see sometimes. These girls will play a lot of minutes, try to stay out of foul trouble and, hopefully, be able to play all the minutes I want them to – aggressively and with at the pace I want to see.” 

Everson, Skyberg and Van Dyke, and the Pipestone Area faithful, will get to see what this group can bring to the hardwood Tuesday night, when PAS hosts Southwest Christian. The Eagles defeated the Arrows 70-60 to open the 2021-22 season last winter. The Arrows will follow up the rivalry tilt with a Big South Conference home game against Jackson County Central, Friday (Dec. 2) before hitting the road for BSC tilts against St. James and Luverne the following Thursday and Friday nights, respectively.

“We have a tough schedule right away,” Everson noted. “We’ll get tested right away and figure out where we stack up against some really good teams.”