Grueling stretch catches up with lady Rebels

Champlin Park junior Alexis Alexander fends off a defender during her team’s 47-39 loss at Anoka Jan. 10. The defeated ended a five-game in eight-day stretch for the Rebels. (Sun Post staff photo by Nick Clark)

Champlin Park junior Alexis Alexander fends off a defender during her team’s 47-39 loss at Anoka Jan. 10. The defeated ended a five-game in eight-day stretch for the Rebels. (Sun Post staff photo by Nick Clark)

Long before the Champlin Park girls basketball season began, head coach Doug Swenson fretted about this portion of the schedule.

There were other areas that appeared more glaring, such as the back-to-back games with Northwest Suburban Conference favorites Osseo and Centennial late last month, or the two-game home test coming later this month with highly regarded Park Center and fourth-ranked Minnetonka.

But this stretch – a five game in eight night introduction to 2013 – had the Rebels far more worried than anything else they would face this winter.

As it turns out, there was good reason.

Champlin Park lost a pair of games last week, the final two of that grueling eight-day exam, and they looked awfully tired in doing so.

“When the legs go, the mind follows quickly,” said Swenson moments after a 47-39 defeat at Anoka that dropped Champlin Park’s record to 8-5 overall and 4-5 in Northwest Suburban Conference play.

“You could tell both Tuesday night (a 46-41 home loss to Elk River) and tonight that we were late to everything,” Swenson continued. “At this level, when you are a half-step late, it turns ugly in a hurry. It is tough for them, and it is tough on the coaching staff mentally as well. We played five games in eight days with only one practice in between. It was a difficult situation, but we have to come out of it now and get back to work, because no one feels sorry for us.”

True. Every team in the state was scheduled to play 25 games this winter. Most got in at least a couple over the holiday break. Champlin Park didn’t play then, however, and the Rebels only practiced five times during the two-week hiatus in between games.

The girls returned to action Jan. 3 and beat Minneapolis Washburn 57-41. The very next night, the Rebels topped Coon Rapids 47-35. They then started last week with a 66-57 victory over Cambridge-Isanti Jan. 7, but they lost by five at home to Elk River 24 hours later, and despite leading much of the night in Anoka, the gas take was obviously running low when the outcome was decided in the final minutes.

“Those are excused though,” said Swenson. “The bottom line is they executed and we didn’t. They were the aggressors. We did a lot of standing around. When that happens, you generally lose.”

Champlin Park held a 20-16 lead at the half, thanks in large part to a pair of three’s from Alexander in the opening minutes, and half-court heave that Ali Zopfi banked in at the buzzer.

Zopfi would add seven more quick points at the start of the second half and go on to finish with 15. Alexander had 15 as well, but combined, their teammates managed just nine points in what could justifiably be described as a sluggish night at the offensive end of the floor.

That will have to change in a hurry should the Rebels try and salvage the second half of their season and garner a top-four seed for beginning of the Class 4A, Section 5 tournament late next month.

“It is put up or shut up time,” said Swenson, whose team will play host to Blaine Jan. 15 and then Andover at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18. “We lost two games that we didn’t see coming. In our section, if you want to be a top-four seed and host a game, you need to win those games. Now we have to make up for those to even give us an argument to be a top-four seed. Because it is a tough road when you have to go on the road for the first game of sections.”

Contact Nick Clark at nick.clark@ecm-inc.com

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