It was hard for Holyoke girls basketball to say goodbye to Emily Jelden and the other seniors from last year's team.
The Dragons had put together a strong season, dropping just one game to Limon, and had a solid chance to make a run at the Class 2A state championship. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down everyone's hopes, but as the 2021 season got underway, Holyoke had clearly picked up right where they left off.
In Jelden's absence from a leadership standpoint, Kristin Vieselmeyer and Lauren Herman have filled the role quite nicely.
"We had some big holes to fill," coach John Baumgartner said. "Losing a four-year point guard is tough. Our guard play... we're working on that right now. The kids want to get back (to the state tournament) and hopefully finish the season. That's the goal right now."
That doesn't just happen with a seamless transition of players on the court. Perhaps one of the biggest strengths of the Dragons' game is the chemistry between the players. That was felt a year ago when they advanced to the state tournament and it's something that Vieselmeyer knows is every bit as important this year.
"They had a big impact on the mentality of our team," she said. "Coach Baumgartner runs a great program where he keeps the same type of mindset throughout the whole season and we try to implement that into this year, especially with our incoming freshmen."
Vieselmeyer has done an admirable job of being the team leader the Dragons (4-0 overall) need both with her attitude and her play.
Through four games this season, she's averaging 25.3 points, 12.5 rebounds and three steals per game. As of Friday, she's second in the state in scoring average regardless of classification.
The challenge for the next month is going to be maintaining those numbers against teams that are a little more familiar with her work.
"I think our league opponents know who she is," Baumgartner said. "I don't think she's going to have that much freedom as we get into our league games."
With league teams paying more attention to her abilities, Baumgartner says it's key that she not get frustrated if her production isn't where it stands today. The best way for the Dragons to keep playing at a level that has earned them the 2A No. 3 ranking is to make sure that everyone is getting involved.
"Other players players are going to have to step up to give her more room if other teams are going to try and take her out of the game," Baumgartner said.
Herman has taken that to heart as she scores nearly 12 points and pulls down almost 10 rebounds per game. Correy Koellner and Elyce Talavera are also contributing sold scoring numbers and also getting work done with rebounding and assists.
That's why the team dynamic off the court is so essential. It helps build an element of trust so when the time comes where opponents aren't going to let Vieselmeyer beat them, she knows that the others on the roster will get the job done.
"The seniors last year talked a lot about body language and controlling what you can control which is your attitude and effort," she said. "That's what I'm doing most this season. I'm playing my role to the best of my abilities and and I'm trying to do whatever I can to help the team, whether that be scoring, rebounding, getting good assists. It doesn't matter to me as long as I'm contributing to the team."
Thus far, it's worked like a charm. And if the Dragons keep playing with positive attitudes and the ability to get everyone involved, they'll play their way into those late-March playoff games.