Jennings’ team missing key player

BY CHARLIE GREEN | JULY 20, 2015 5:00 AM

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Driven by Game Time’s most formidable trio, Randy Larson’s Marion Iron finished 4-0 in the regular season of the summer league, earning the top seed for the playoffs in the process.

Now, entering a semifinal match against Brian Joens’ Cullen/Joensy’s, the team faces the challenge of playing without a key part of its “big three” — Luther guard Moran Lonning.

“She’s one of the best players in the league, no doubt about it,” Larson said.

Lonning, who is traveling to Brazil for a basketball trip with Luther, has been a vital piece for his squad this summer.

A fiery, ultra-competitive point guard, her aggression on offense paired with relentless defensive intensity complemented the athleticism of Claire Till and Whitney Jennings. Other than that, no one has matched Lonning’s visible passion for the game.

Her ability as a point guard freed up Jennings to play shooting guard and focus more on scoring, something that head coach Larson is not worried about changing.

“One of the things that will happen is that Whitney will have the ball a lot more,” Larson said. “And that’s not good for the opponent, because Whitney’s awfully good with the ball … so I don’t think it will make that big of a difference.”

But Lonning could score, too, and did so often — averaging 25.0 points per game in the four regular-season contests.

One of the assets Lonning brought to the table was her ability to run the floor with Jennings. Both could push the ball quickly in transition, which became a staple for the group.

The two used quickness and aggression to get to the rim, showing the ability to finish as well as draw in defenders and kick the ball out to open teammates on the perimeter.

That Larson had two guards who could do that proved to be overwhelming for opponents, forcing defenders to think and react quickly against his up-tempo attack. And in that sense, the players do lose a dynamic to their offense; but defensively, Lonning might  be missed more.

“Defensively, it makes us awfully tough when we have both of them, because they can both guard anybody,” Larson said. “Now, we’ve gotten to where Whitney has to cover the top guard on the other team, and that will be less of an advantage for us.”

Jennings has looked like the league MVP thus far, after averaging 37.0 points per game. She will be called upon to do even more in the absence of her backcourt partner.

And if losing Lonning was not enough, Ally Disterhoft’s addition to Bethany Doolittle’s Comfort Care/Pelling squad puts another strong contender in the Game Time playoff picture.

For now, the group has to get through Joens’ team, led by Iowa guard Alexa Kastanek.

A strong supporting cast that includes Kylie Romeo and Griffin Reed eases Larson’s team of some of the stress. Nonetheless, the players will have to account for the absence of Lonning, who to this point has looked like one of the top-five players in the league.

“I look forward for the team to rise to the challenge and seeing what they can do,” Larson said. “They’re a team with a lot of pride, and I think Claire and Whitney are going to try to carry them on next week even without Moran.”

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