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Women’s college basketball: Kaelyn Christian leads defensive-minded Yellowjackets past Saints

UWS didn’t give up a field goal until more than eight minutes were gone in the first quarter.

UW-Superior’s Kaelyn Christian (10) drives on the St. Scholastica defense before they get set
Kaelyn Christian (10) of Wisconsin-Superior drives on the St. Scholastica defense before they get set in the first quarter of the game in Superior on Tuesday night.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — With just over 90 seconds gone in the first quarter, Wisconsin-Superior senior Kaelyn Christian saw an opportunity in the Yellowjackets' matchup against St. Scholastica Tuesday night at Mertz Mortorelli Gymnasium.

The Saints’ Nia Hacker was looking for an outlet pass at the top of the key, but held the ball a little too far away from her body. Christian moved in to take the ball away and was fouled on her way to the basket.

Christian made both free throws, giving the Yellowjackets an early seven-point lead and UWS would cruise to a 71-47 win. She scored a game-high 16 points while collecting three steals in the process.

UW-Superior’s Bryton Kukowski (25) gets fouled by St. Scholastica’s Ashley Faur (21) on her way to the hoop
Bryton Kukowski (25) of UWS gets fouled by St. Scholastica’s Ashley Faur (21) on her way to the hoop in the second quarter of the game in Superior on Tuesday night.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“We definitely have a defensive focus when it comes to practice, but we’re not robots,” Christian said. “We know where we’re supposed to be, we know to be up close, we know how to put pressure, but we also know how to read things. If a girl is holding the ball out, you go in, you grab it and you run with it.”

The Yellowjacket defense was stifling against the Saints and that’s just how first-year UWS coach Emily Carpenter likes it. CSS didn’t score for almost four minutes and didn’t have a field goal until Katie Vaske hit a 3-pointer with 1:42 left in the first quarter. The Saints had just 11 field goals and shot just better than 23% from the field.

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UW-Superior’s Elise Besonen (22) saves a ball from going over half court in front of St. Scholastica’s Lexi Imdieke (1)
UW-Superior’s Elise Besonen (22) saves a ball from going over half court in front of St. Scholastica’s Lexi Imdieke (1) in the first quarter of the game in Superior on Tuesday night.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“We really take pride in our defense here,” Carpenter said. “We were up in people’s faces, we were switching, we were denying and that’s where I tell them we’re going to win games. We’re going to win out on the defensive side, hustling after loose balls, diving here and there and it takes everybody who gets in going as hard as they can.”

CSS was down two starters, including freshman Jackie Johnson, and junior Miranda Broberg was limited after getting cleared just hours before the game, but coach Jasonb Schmitz didn’t want to lay the blame on missing players. Vaske led the Saints with 14 points, but she was the only CSS player to reach double digits.

St. Scholastica’s Katie Vaske (30) tries to drive in on UW-Superior’s Mady Sanders (15)
St. Scholastica’s Katie Vaske (30) tries to drive in on Wisconsin-Superior’s Mady Sanders (15) in the second quarter of the game in Superior on Tuesday night.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“They came out, they were a little bit more physical than us and they took us out of our rhythm,” Schmitz said.

Not only were the Yellowjackets strong defensively, they also played well on the offensive end. Instead of settling for contested jumpers, they were making the extra pass to get a better look and it showed in the results.

“We love the game of basketball and it shows out there that they’re genuinely enjoying being around each other and playing good team basketball,” Carpenter said. “We’ve really learned a lot these past two games — all five people out there, they want to win and they're getting it done no matter if it’s them scoring or their teammate and everyone is happy for each other.”

St. Scholastica’s Liz Frase (4) reaches for a loose ball with UW-Superior’s Sam Parendo (11)
St. Scholastica’s Liz Frase (4) reaches for a loose ball with Wisconsin-Superior’s Sam Parendo (11) in the first quarter of the game in Superior on Tuesday night.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Despite the loss, Schmitz said the Saints have several brand-new players in the program and everyone is still learning his motion offense. CSS got its first win in nearly two years last season, but they are still learning and it will take time to get the program where Schmitz wants it to be.

“Our hope is that by January we’re clicking, but it takes time when you’re rebuilding the program,” he said. “We took over the program about 14 months ago and we won a game last year for the first time in 718 days, it takes time to build these things.”

UWS (2-0) will play at No. 13 Simpson at 2 p.m. Saturday in Indianola, Iowa.

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CSS (0-2) will play Concordia-Moorhead at 3 p.m. Saturday in Duluth

UW-Superior’s Elise Besonen (22) falls to the court after saving the ball from going over half court
Wisconsin-Superior’s Elise Besonen (22) falls to the court after saving the ball from going over half court in the first quarter of the Yellowjackets game with St. Scholastica in Superior on Tuesday night.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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