Girls basketball: Perham reloads with high expectations; Morris excited to be back on the court
With the help of senior Mya Morris, who missed the 2021-22 season with a torn ACL, the Perham girls basketball team is looking to build off a successful season from a year ago in a wide-open Section
PERHAM – The Perham girls basketball team reached new heights in head coach TJ Super’s tenure last winter. However, the Yellowjackets are looking for more.
Perham is coming off its first Heart O’Lakes Conference championship since 2008 and a trip to the final four in the Section 8-2A tournament. Yet a 70-49 loss to Menahga left more to be desired.
“I think our success from last year will be very helpful,” Super said. “Last year, we surprised quite a few people after losing four seniors from the year before. To get 21 wins was nice, but I think our girls have higher expectations this year.”
The Yellowjackets finished the 2021-22 campaign 21-8. Super was named Section 8-2A Coach of the Year for the first time in his 10 years at the helm.
Despite posting a 17-3 Section 8-2A record, two freight trains were head and shoulders above the other 14 teams. Top-seeded Fergus Falls, led by Division I recruit Ellie Colbeck, and a senior-loaded Menahga team was too much to handle.
Now, after Colbeck moved on to South Dakota State University and Menagha graduated its entire starting lineup, the path to the state tournament is wide open.
“Every year, the question is, ‘Who’s going to be favored?’” Super said. “Every year, there are teams that come out of nowhere. Our conference is loaded with really good teams. Pelican (Rapids) will be better than they were last year. Barnesville and Breckenridge will be improved. (Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton) is going to be a really good team. I do think it’s ripe for the taking, but it’s not going to be easy. Nobody will give it to us just because we have a bunch of good players back. We have to go out and earn it.”
“I think the section was top-heavy last year with five or six teams ahead of everybody else,” Super said. “I think the 7-12 teams will come up drastically. The teams like Park Rapids, Wadena-Deer Creek, Thief River Falls and East Grand Forks are all going to be in the mix. I wouldn’t be surprised if this section had 12 teams that could beat anyone on any given night.”
The challenge for Perham will be replacing two of its top players from a year ago. Sydney Anderson and Greta Hillukka logged more minutes than most players.
“We have a lot of girls back with a lot of experience,” Super said. “Getting Mya (Morris) back is a huge deal for us. We did lose three key seniors from last year, and Greta (Hillukka) and Sydney Anderson played 28-30 minutes a game for us. We have to figure out how to replace that. We had a lot of girls put time in the summer. We played about 40 games this summer, so we’ve already established a lot of those roles for replacing Syd and Greta.”
The biggest key to Perham’s success this season is leaning on its depth to take the pressure off of Morris and Thiel.
“The reality is we had 11 girls play varsity minutes this summer, which doesn’t include Ryleigh Mickelson, who was recovering from a shoulder surgery,” Super said. “We have 12 girls that can play varsity minutes. I doubt it’ll be a situation where we replace Syd and Greta with two girls. Instead, we’re going to replace them with our depth. Then you hope seniors Olivia Rosenthal, Olivia Pilgrim and Lilly Aakre can fill in some of that leadership.”
Gaining a senior
On Nov. 9, Morris signed her National Letter of Intent to play college basketball at Valley City State University.
“It was definitely in mind going into this year. I wanted to make my decision final before Christmas or before the season if I could,” Morris said. “During the season, I want to focus on my team and doing what we need to get done instead of the individual aspect. I’m relieved it’s out of the way.”
It was a long road to get to that point. In the summer of 2021, Morris tore her ACL, ending any hope of playing in her junior basketball season. It also sidelined her from cross country and track and field.
Fast forward a year later, and Morris is back in black and gold. She is looking to make up for lost time and step into her role as a team leader.
“You feel disconnected from the team when you can’t be out there practicing,” Morris said. “This year, getting to be out here from the beginning and practice with them every day is so much fun. It really feels like you’re part of the team when you get to bond with them.”
Morris watched as her teammates brought home accolades last year. While she was happy about their success, it’s pushing her to be part of a history-making season in 2022-23.
“It’s motivating,” she said. “When you see what they did and what all they accomplished, it would be fun to be part of that. I want to build on that this year. It’ll be awesome.”
Super believes that Morris might’ve been the missing piece.
“We didn’t have a point guard last year,” Super said. “We had to patchwork the whole thing together. We did a good job of it at times, but early in the season, we really struggled. It wasn’t an Achilles heel for us, but it was never a strength. Mya is maybe the best ball-handler in the entire section. She can shoot it too. What she also brings is hard work. She shoots more than any other human on Earth. I could be in the morning, before practice, after practice or whenever–she’s shooting.”
Adding Morris to the lineup will make Perham one of the more feared teams in the Heart O’Lakes Conference and Section 8-2A.
“We should be happy to be in a position where we have a target on our back because that means we put in the work to get to that point,” Super said. “Mya and Willow are super skilled. The Pilgrim sisters can put the ball in the basket. We have young girls that can just score and guards that cause havoc. We know teams are going to try to take away Mya and Willow. We believe we have the depth to succeed around them.”
“We need to come into practice and work our hardest,” Morris said. “It’s about never settling. Defense will be key this year, and that takes hard work. We just can’t settle for anything less than our best effort. We can’t control what other teams are doing. We can only control what we’re doing. If we go out there and focus on what we can do to win instead of how good or bad the other team is, everything will fall into place.”