The combined record of Isle and Onamia High girls basketball teams last season was 8-30, with Isle winning just one game and going 0-14 in the Great River Conference. With those stats to dwell on, it was quite obvious that the won-loss column proved both teams had and were going to have problems competing with their peers on area courts.
Thus, the two team’s school boards decided to pair their squads forming the Mille Lacs Raiders starting this season.
As predicted, some girls from both schools for various reasons decided not to take part, especially at the varsity and JV levels, but the Raiders were still able to find 15 girls grades 10-12, along with one 9th-grader, to field what has been a competitive varsity squad so far.
So, has been the early outcome? After dropping their first game to Mora, they put together two straight wins — one over Brooklyn Park and another over conference rival East Central. They went on to add one other victory, that over North Lakes Academy in a tournament hosted at Isle High just before the Christmas break.
The Raiders were poised to enter the new year with an overall record of 3-4, which is on pace to possibly winning more than the combined eight wins of last years two teams going it separately.
And which girls have risen to shine in this new pairing experiment? Onamia senior guard Aiyanna Mitchell and Isle rising star junior Celleia Simmons-Merrill have shown signs of becoming outstanding players at their positions so far.
Mitchell has led her team in scoring in five of the seven games and is averaging 13 points per outing.
Simmons-Merrill has led the team in scoring twice, averaging nine points per game and is performing on court in a manner well above her age, not only on offense but also showing power as a rebounder.
Add to that several young players such as sophomores Faith Larson and Kathlyn Schoeck and 9th-grader Brooklyn Orazem who have already proven they belong on varsity, along juniors Ashley Rogers, Abby Biniek, Jayden Biros and Nevaeh Merrill, and IHS senior Gabby Perkio, each who saw plenty of action last season, and the paired Raiders just might produce more than the combined eight wins of last year.