Taking a look back at the 2022-23 Midland girls’ basketball campaign without a fine-toothed comb, it would appear on paper the Eagles were successful in their quest towards continued improvement.
That’s because, they were.
Look a little deeper and you’ll see the Midland season was filled with memorable moments.
The program posted double-digit triumphs for the first time in five years while also picking up a regional playoff victory, also a first since the 2017-18 campaign.
But Eagle girls’ basketball coach Jason Soper isn’t getting overconfident with the results from last winter, and he wants to make sure his girls don’t either.
“Overall, yes, this season was a success,” said Soper, who guided the Eagles to a 10-13 overall record (best since the program went 13-11 during the 2017-18 season), 5-7 mark within Tri-Rivers Conference East division play (fourth in the division) and included a huge 56-47 playoff victory at Lone Tree.
“Not that we are content with just those results though. They’re building blocks raising the standards of success. Our senior class was solid and our junior class really came into their own. Our knowledge of the system we run continued to blossom, pressure defense, creating shots in transition, playing fast and rebounding the ball well while getting up a high volume of shots.”
Midland was in the top-20 in all of class 1A in shots attempted (1,331) this past season and in the top-50 regardless of class while averaging a solid 43.4 points per game.
Anna Bartels had a breakthrough campaign scoring a team-high 12.3 points per game while her 5.8 rebounds a night was also a team-best number. Amaya Terrell, one of the top 3-pointers in the conference each of the last three years, also stepped up tallying 7.5 points a night while drilling a team-high 37 treys. Emmaleigh Soper also stepped up as another low-post presence with Bartels averaging 7.5 points while shooting a team-best 36-percent from the floor.
“Offensively, Emmaleigh really stepped up for someone with little to no varsity experience to being second on the team in scoring and rebounding, which was a real tribute to how athletic she is,” Soper said. “Anna also stepped her game up, which wasn’t really a surprise to anyone. I also thought (freshman) A.J. Soper was a nice addition and really set herself up to have a breakout sophomore season.”
A.J. Soper gave the team yet another perimeter threat connecting 27 times from 3-point land and at a respectable 25-percent clip.
But it wasn’t just the offense that saw massive improvements this winter.
“We really rebounded the ball well,” Soper said. “We finished 38th overall in the state for all classes with 850 boards. For a team with the tallest player being 5-9, that is a testament to how hard our players work and their ability to put themselves in good rebounding positions as well as understanding the game.
“We really grew in our will to win games, too. The Easton Valley game is an example where everything was stacked against us to lose. But we battled, players made plays and we overcame something we were not able to last year. I also thought we did a great job of being diverse defensively and with our press. We were able to change and adjust in-game really well which gave us the opportunity to force teams to make adjustments.”
Olivia Paulsen, Hannah Fishwild and Bartels all played key roles in the big defensive improvements as well.
“Olivia is physical and doesn’t mind playing to contact,” Soper said. “She was our free throw percentage leader this season which is what you want to see out of a post player. Anna really did a great job playing at the top of our press and I would also like to add Hannah Fishwild to that list, too. She did a great job as an undersized post being physical and being a presence for us inside.”
Fishwild is one of four seniors graduating the program with classmates Gracie Franzen, Alivia Smith and Terrell.
Smith and Franzen tied for the team lead in assists per game (1.9) while both proved all-around threats this past season.
“Liv was a special player for us,” Soper said. “She had the lowest turnover margin on the team which was a testament to her as she handled the ball a lot playing 20-plus minutes per night. But the attributes that outweigh her stats was the type of person she is. She was always positive and encouraging her teammates, upbeat and positive. He leadership will be hard to replace.
“Gracie really stepped up her game this year. She oftentimes commented in the past how she wasn’t a very good basketball player, but I think she proved herself as well as others wrong. She was a leader on and off the court and was really an extension of us coaches on the floor. Her intelligence as well as her drive to be the best version of herself will carry her far in life.”
Terrell’s shooting ability was also special.
“Maya was such an electric player for us, especially when she was in the zone,” Soper said. “She had the ability to take over games offensively with her sharp-shooting, speed in the open court and pure athleticism. She will always be remembered for her big shooting games like the night she broke the school record at Cedar Valley Christian (during the 2021-22 campaign) making eight 3’s. She finished her career with 132 made 3’s and was tried for the team lead in steals (62) too.”
Fishwild did a lot of the dirty work around the basket during her four-year run.
“Hannah had statistics that often times go unrecorded that helped her teammates find success,” Soper said. “Her intelligence and love for the game is one that will be hard to match. My guess is if she someday chooses to get into coaching (just like her mother and assistant coach Sarah Fishwild), she will be highly successful because of her attention to detail.”
Midland returns 65-percent of the team’s key statistics looking to keep the positive momentum rolling into 2023-24.
“I really like our chances at a top-3 finish in the conference next season,” Soper said. “The potential is there, but work has to be done between now and then. One thing I would say is the taste of winning that district game really is going to motivate us even more heading into the off-season.”