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Ethan aims to maintain top-tier Class B status in post-Gustafson era

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Ethan's Maddie Miiller (right) drives past De Smet's Raegan Burke during the Class B championship game on March 9 at Huron Arena. (Nick Sabato / Republic)

ETHAN -- Five consecutive trips to the state tournament have created an expectation for Ethan to be among the top teams in Class B each year, but if head coach Tom Young shares that idea, he isn’t concerned about it.

Young cares more about the path than the destination, which molds the team mentality as the Rustlers begin life without reigning Class B player of the year Karly Gustafson, who has taken her 20.2 points and 7.6 rebounds to Dordt University.

Three starters return from last year’s 24-1 squad that did not suffer a loss until meeting De Smet in the state championship, but coupled with a mix of new players, No. 5-ranked Ethan is prepared for a new journey as veterans and newcomers attempt to find new roles.

“I think these girls have a lot of potential and we have a lot to work on,” Young said. “It’s exciting to me, I hope it’s exciting for the girls. There’s so many things you can’t control, but what I try to control is just to be as good as we can be each day and enjoy the satisfaction that comes with going all out.”

While Gustafson’s departure leaves a big hole in the scorebook and a strong presence in the paint at both ends of the court, seniors Jessica Bartscher and Maddie Miiller form an experienced backcourt duo that has started the last two seasons.

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Bartscher proved to be a reliable outside shooter, averaging eight points and 2.4 steals per game. Meanwhile, Miiller averaged 9.4 points and 3.5 assists per game, and was dubbed the team’s top defender by Young prior to tearing her ACL in the state finals.

Cameryn Logan had a breakout junior campaign after averaging 10 points and 3.9 rebounds, and at 5-foot-10, becomes the top interior scorer for the Rustlers.

They are joined by senior Erica Storm, junior Lexi Lingemann, sophomore Hannah Bartscher and eighth-grader Ava Lingemann, but even after a 52-36 season-opening win over Hanson on Saturday, Young does not believe roles have been determined and won’t be for a while.

“Those roles and achievements is kind of a dynamic thing and it isn’t decided at the beginning of the year,” Young said. “As the year goes on, kids will step into their roles. Some of it’s going to be scorers, some of it’s going to be defenders, some of it’s going to be support and each girl has their role. Those aren’t determined yet.”

In Young’s first five seasons at Ethan, the team could rely on having a 6-footer in the post, such as Karly Gustafson, or her older sister, Darbi, who starred at Northwestern College until graduating earlier this year. This season, the Rustlers lack that size and may be more guard-oriented than ever before.

“I think we’re working together, swinging the ball and getting everyone involved,” Jessica Bartscher said. “I think it’s easier for us because we’re not relying on one girl.”

Once roles become defined and Ethan moves into the heart of its schedule, chatter of reaching the state tournament will once again be inevitable. In a 14-day stretch beginning Jan. 9, the Rustlers have a tilt with Avon and an appearance the Hanson Classic at the Corn Palace, while also facing Bridgewater-Emery and a road game against current Class B No. 1 Corsica-Stickney.

“A lot of people don’t have confidence in us that we won’t be able to do it again,” Miiller said, “but I have confidence in my team that we’ll be able to do it again. That’s definitely the goal, so we not only won’t let ourselves down, but the community down.”

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