Harvest Christian rebuilding with several new faces
The past two seasons, Harvest Christian was a force to be reckoned with in girls basketball.
The Lions finished fourth in Class 1A in 2016-2017 and made it to the Elite Eight in Class 2A in last school year's campaign.
This season is another story. The Lions lost their third game in row Thursday night to Rockford Christian, 59-41, in Harvest Christian's Bill Knox Memorial Thanksgiving Tournament.
This season's roster is quite different. In addition to graduating five players in June, six others from last season's team transferred out of the school, leaving only three returnees: juniors Maddie Martin and Lauren Semerau, and sophomore Missy Fuja. Six new players joined the squad -- five are freshmen.
The Lions also feature a new head coach, Zoe Smallwood -- their third in three seasons.
"It's a rebuilding phase for Harvest, especially the varsity girls and the girls program in general," Smallwood said. "The idea is to cultivate the game of basketball again and make the kids that are underclassmen fall in love (with it) and learn my philosophy of basketball so we can build and grow."
Harvest (0-3) took a brief lead halfway through the first quarter. A Semerau putback put the Lions up 12-10.
Rockford's Becca Theisen responded with a layup. Martin put Harvest back up, 12-10, with a layup of her own. Rockford closed out the quarter with a 7-0 run to take a 17-12 lead.
Rockford Christian (1-2) widened its lead to 29-19 in the second frame with junior Noelle Lavery contributing eight of her team-high 19 points.
Harvest's shooting went cold in the third quarter, managing only four points, all from Martin who led all scorers with 21 points. The Lions trailed Rockford 47-23 at the start of the final quarter.
The Lions found the net in the fourth quarter scoring 18 points to Rockford's 12.
"In the first three quarters we were very intense on defense," Rockford Christian coach Chris Bork said. "I think we got a little lackadaisical in the fourth quarter. Overall the girls did a great job up and down and moving the ball around."
Despite the slow start, the Lions are optimistic.
"I think our team has had some struggles losing players and everything but tonight I think we really came together and played as one instead of five separate players," said Martin.
"It was pleasant surprise to see the girls working together and smiling even in the face of opposition," Smallwood said. "It was a joy to see that they were buying into the defensive side and understand that defense is our offense."