C alumet’s defense is relentless.
The trapping, in-your-face pressure causes turnovers, fouls and all-around chaos.
It was also the reason why spectators in Friday’s district title game got a glimpse of two players of the future: Calumet’s Laina Kariniemi and Negaunee’s Ella Mason.
The two freshmen made their presence known in Calumet’s 51-36 district final win on Friday.
For Calumet, the high-intensity of its attack led to foul trouble, meaning Kariniemi played significant minutes.
She’s been on the varsity squad all season, playing in spurts, but during Friday’s contest, the Copper Kings really needed her.
In a second quarter where the offense was stalling due to experienced guards sitting on the bench with fouls, Kariniemi was able to keep her team on pace.
According to coach Matt Laho, she does all the little things, often going unnoticed.
But there’s no forgetting Kariniemi when she lines up behind the 3-point line. The freshman guard has a beautiful shot that she showcased on a corner 3 in the second quarter against Negaunee, and throughout the season.
“She is really intense,” Laho said of Kariniemi. “She gets inside, and she’s small, but she gets rebounds and she does the dirty work. She’s getting a body on someone and she’s playing hard defense and boxing out and getting rebounds. You start to forget about her as a 3-point shooter and then she will knock down a shot from the outside.”
For Negaunee, despite her youth, the Miners turned to Mason as a calming force in the backcourt to help break the press.
After Negaunee endured a few too many turnovers, including a 10-second call, coach Mike O’Donnell turned to Mason to help get the ball over halfcourt.
“She is probably one of the best ball-handlers in our program,” O’Donnell said. “She’s a very talented player.
“We knew that with the style we were going to see with Hancock and Calumet we needed ballhandlers. And that’s what she can do. She can get the ball across and she doesn’t get fazed very easily. We knew that was going to help us in these situations.”
Mason played a key role in Negaunee’s tournament run, though it came to an end on Friday, and Kariniemi has contributed for Calumet all season.
The two will impact their programs for years to come, but they took different paths to get to Friday’s contest.
Kariniemi jumped right in at the varsity level. She proved herself as an offensive threat in Calumet’s 74-33 win over L’Anse on March 2, coming off the bench to hit three 3-pointers for 13 points.
“She can go out there, it doesn’t matter what the score of the game is, what the pressure looks like. She’s just cool, calm and collected,” Laho said after that game.
And as the season has gone on, Laho has trusted Kariniemi more and more. On Friday, it was clear that she fits seamlessly into Calumet’s game plan, both on offense and defense.
“The hard part anytime you get a freshman coming into a program is the basketball knowledge isn’t there,” Laho said. “And when teams go zone, that’s when you’re testing how well do they know the game? And so as the season goes on they’re just learning more about the game and they’re able to handle the pressure a little bit better and pick apart zones a little bit better.”
For Negaunee, Mason got her start at the JV level to begin the season, before being added to the varsity roster for the postseason.
O’Donnell planned on bringing her up sooner, but a severe ankle sprain hindered her progress.
Still, when O’Donnell called on her, Mason was ready for the challenge.
“I had a really good season on JV, so I built a lot of confidence,” she said. “I was able to come onto varsity and when I adjusted it was was easy to contribute.
“I learned a lot from Larissa (Anderson) and all of the seniors, and I’m going to take that into next year and hopefully have a really good season.”
O’Donnell agrees and sees Mason as a cornerstone of the program going forward.
“I think she learned some things, and hopefully getting her feet wet a little bit will kind of help jumpstart her into next season. We are obviously going to expect a lot more from her.”
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