Girls basketball teams in the Camden Conference have come to learn that when they play the Lakeview Lakers, they better be ready for a battle under the baskets. Lakeview senior Emily Swenson is a big reason why.
Swenson, a 6-foot center, averages 8.7 rebounds and a team-high 15.4 points per game while providing a punishing presence in the paint. She and fellow senior Lyndsey Peterson (9.6 rpg) have combined to form a tenacious tag team on the boards for the Lakers, who sit at 11-13 overall.
While Swenson has shot 51.1 percent from the field this season, the Lakers have collectively struggled making baskets. None of the other Lakers who have taken more than 20 shots shoot better than 32 percent.
With the many misses have come many opportunities for rebounds, and there's usually a good chance Swenson will be there to haul in the ball. Lakeview head coach Mike Imes said he sometimes jokes with his players that the team's best offense comes when the Lakers miss a shot Swenson gets a chance at a putback.
"She definitely knows how to block out," Imes said. "Once you challenge her a little bit, boy, she goes after it and the girls who are on her are feeling it. As the games go on, she physically wears girls out."
Imes took over as head coach of the Lakers last season and has coached Swenson for three years, leading her on the team's B-squad when she was a sophomore. Swenson transfered to Lakeview from Yellow Medicine East as a sophomore, but wasn't allowed to play varsity sports for the Lakers that year because she transfered without moving into the district and didn't get YME officials to sign off on allowing her to play varsity sports for Lakeview.
Imes said Swenson would have started for the Lakeview varsity team as a sophomore, but instead she had to play the whole season on B-squad. Once she was allowed to play for the varsity team as a junior, Swenson made an immediate impact, consistently putting up double-digit scoring efforts and pulling down several rebounds a game.
Swenson had to take on more of a leadership role than she anticipated during her junior year when one of the team's top perimeter players, Melissa Streich, suffered a knee injury that kept her from playing most of the season.
Although it was just her first year playing varsity basketball, Swenson felt she had a responsibility to step up her game to try to lift the team.
"It's been a lot harder with Mel out because she's been kind of the scorer out of our guards," Swenson said. "When she was gone it was one less person, so I realized I had to step up more than I thought I'd have to.
"I kind of realized that I was a bigger part of the team so I just tried to make sure all the girls were having positive attitudes because I realized how much that counted towards the games. I just figured, someone's got to step up, so why not it be me?"
Without Streich's scoring, the Lakers struggled to a 6-20 overall record in 2010-11, losing 15 of their final 16 games.
Streich has also missed the 2011-12 season due to a separate knee injury, but thanks to the improvement of Swenson and other returners, the Lakers have nearly doubled their win total from a season ago.
Feeling she would have to pick up her scoring to help her team have more success, Swenson has worked on her shooting touch around the basket and her accuracy has risen by almost 15 percent.
Imes said Swenson has become so reliable that the Lakers run their offense through her.
"Our philosophy is that she touches the ball first, hopefully, on just about every possession," he said. "If she's covered, kick it out and do what you've got to do, but every possession we want to try to get it inside to her and at least get her a touch."
Even with opponents beginning to double team Swenson, Imes said her production hasn't seen a decline. She has led the team in scoring in 19 of 24 games and has posted 10 double-doubles this season.
Swenson has also turned into a force on the defensive end, sitting among the area leaders in total blocks (47) and steals (45).
With two games left in the regular season, the senior-laden Lakeview squad is concentrating on extending its season as long as it can. The Lakers have lost their first-round game in the Section 3A-North tournament each of the past two seasons, but Swenson feels her team is capable of making a stronger run this time around.
"I think we just need to work hard to work as a team and just go out and play basketball," she said. "We're so focused on doing things right sometimes that we start doing them wrong.
"(Playing basketball) comes natural to almost everyone on our team, and you can see that, so they need to let their body and mind just go and play basketball the way they know how to."