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Prep girls basketball: Scrapes and bruises another part of the uniform for Grand Rapids

Thunderhawk players stopped using knee pads recently, but it hasn’t stopped them from doing “what it takes to get that ball,” coach Kris Hamling said.

Grand Rapids girls basketball defeats Superior at home in overtime
Grand Rapids center Jessika Lofstrom (20) hits the floor while chasing a loose ball against Superior on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, at the Grand Rapids High School Gymnasium.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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GRAND RAPIDS — Currently ranked eighth in Class AAA and on a 12-game win streak, Grand Rapids is one of the hottest teams in Minnesota.

The Thunderhawks (22-2) have three players shooting at least 40% from 3-point range, including junior sharpshooter Taryn Hamling, who is shooting nearly 44% and averaging 22.6 points per game. Kyra Giffen is shooting nearly 52% from long range and Jessika Lofstrom is averaging 40%, but they’ve hit only 25 combined 3-pointers while Hamling is 93-for-212.

Prolific shooting, however, might not be Grand Rapids’ greatest asset.

During a 58-55 overtime win over Superior Feb. 11, the Thunderhawks rallied from 14 down with just more than 11 minutes to play, but it wasn’t raining 3s on the Spartans.

Grand Rapids players were diving on the floor to fight for every loose ball and the evidence showed on the girls’ knees.

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Bruises and floor burns appear to be as much a part of the Thunderhawk uniform as their orange and black jerseys.

Grand Rapids girls basketball defeats Superior at home in overtime
Late in the season the knees of many of the Grand Rapids players are banged up from chasing the ball as seen against Superior on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, at the Grand Rapids High School Gymnasium.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Coach Kris Hamling said the team used to wear knee pads, but stopped at the beginning of the year. She said the knee pads are uncomfortable and start to dig into players’ legs but it’s become something more that showed up again in the Thunderhawks’ 61-56 win over Bemidji Feb. 15.

“It’s just become a kind of ‘who can get the most bruised legs’ and that, to me, is just a sign of aggressiveness and like a no-pain theory,” coach Hamling said Feb. 16. “They’re still diving on the floor for balls. In our game last night, we had at least three hustle balls where we’re diving on the floor and it’s either hitting our knees or hitting our arms or head, but it’s not a problem. They’re still fighting away without those knee pads on.”

Hamling said the pads made her knees itch and would tear easily. Giffen decided they just didn’t do much for her.

“I wasn’t getting many holes in mine — it was helping but it wasn’t super effective every game,” Giffen said. “After a while I was like, ‘Do I really need to wear them?’ I was still able to be aggressive and do everything and not worry about my knees."

Giffen said the worst of her bruises came when she tripped during a game, but it didn’t cause pain like some smaller bruises.

“It didn’t even hurt, it wasn’t even a bad play,” Giffen said. “The next day I came in and it was a pretty big bruise, bigger than any of the other ones I’ve had before. Everyone was like, ‘what happened?’ It honestly didn’t hurt as bad as some of the other times.”

The last time the team compared their bruises — after practice last Thursday — it was Hamling who had the biggest mark on her knees from a fall earlier in the practice. Like Giffen, she said she doesn’t think much about it in the game, but sometimes it does take a toll.

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“When I go for the ball, I don’t feel it at all,” Hamling said. “But then after the game, I’m like, ‘Ohh my knees are really not doing too good right now.”

Coach Hamling said they all have the option to wear knee pads, but it’s more important for her players to feel good in their uniforms. She recalled her own experience playing in a uniform that was a little tight and she wants her players to be relaxed on the court.

“They need to feel confident and comfortable on the floor,” coach Hamling said. “If that means no knee pads, that means no knee pads. We do explain they still need to go for those loose balls and dive, but they don’t think anything of it if they get a bruise here or there.”

Hamling said all the Thunderhawk coaches encourage them to play as hard as they can, but she had another reason for hitting the deck for a loose ball.

“We all really want to be on offense,” Hamling said. “We all really want to get the ball. We all take that one extra step to dive for the ball and just work extra hard because we know it’ll pay off in the long run.”

The Spartans went on a 19-0 run after halftime, but couldn’t hang on for the win.

With the win over Superior, Grand Rapids clinched the Lake Superior Conference title and is the top-ranked team in Section 7AAA heading into the section tournament March 1-10.

The Thunderhawks haven’t lost to a potential section opponent this year and while they have a stellar record, it’s not the wins or gaudy statistics that have Hamling and her coaching staff beaming.

“They just want to play the game,” coach Hamling said. “Whether they’ve got a knee pad on or not, they’re going to do what it takes to get that ball and that makes us pretty proud they’re willing to do that.”

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Grand Rapids was scheduled to play at Duluth Denfeld at 7 p.m. Friday in their regular season finale.

Grand Rapids girls basketball defeats Superior at home in overtime
Grand Rapids head coach Kris Hamling talks to her team on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, at the Grand Rapids High School Gymnasium. She remembered playing in a uniform that was too tight and said she wants her own players to be "confident and comfortable on the floor."
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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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