HOUGHTON - The Houghton girls' basketball team lost all five senior starters from last year's 22-1 squad, essentially hitting the restart button after a 13th consecutive district title.
The Gremlins came out flying in their trademark style Tuesday night, blowing Baraga out of the Houghton gym with a 42-13 halftime lead and 68-33 final.
Houghton junior forward Elisa Jurmu attempts a fast-break layup in the second quarter against Baraga as Melissa Putala defends. Jurmu finished with a game-high 20 points. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
Pressing and breaking for 32 minutes, the program coach Julie Filpus built continues to roll.
"The girls came out with good intensity and they came out wanting to compete," Filpus said.
"Overall we had some really good runs. There are things we want to clean up defensively, we committed too many fouls. But we are very happy to start."
Baraga 6 7 13 10 - 33
Houghton 19 23 12 14 - 68
Baraga - Shannon Fish 10, Katie Schjoth 10, Jenna Heikkinen 4, Gabby Mayo 4, Jackie Wadaga 2, Melissa Putala 1; FT: 5-13; 3-point field goals: none.
Houghton - Elisa Jurmu 20, Kelsie Richards 11, Alexa Johnson 10, Blaire Zenner 9, Ashley Laux 9, Sydney Dillinger 6, Natalie Datto 2, Noelle Polakowski 1; FT: 11-20; 3-point field goals: Johnson 2, Laux 1.
Behind seven points from junior forward Elisa Jurmu, Houghton pushed the advantage to 19-4 in the game's opening seven minutes.
The second quarter produced more of the same, with senior starting guard Alexa Johnson exploding for eight points in three straight possessions to give the Gremlins a 29-point halftime advantage. Baraga scored seven points in the second period.
Lady Vikings coach Mariah Dunham wasn't too worked up about the final margin, however, as she viewed the loss as an excellent way to shape her team moving forward.
"What's funny is we want that to be our style as well," Dunham said. "Fast break, get in your face on defense. And I love this program, the way they do everything from bottom up. I talked to coach Filpus a bit about how you build that because they are so fundamentally sound. They can all pass, dribble, shoot, just all the basketball I.Q. stuff."
Filpus has built the Gremlins this way with help from the JV, freshmen and even eighth grade programs.
She has been able to (nearly) seamlessly reload year after year as the bedrocks of the Houghton program are taught at every level.
"Actually, even in our eighth grade we start emphasizing fast break and some of those principles," Filpus said. "Then the freshman and JV teams try to run identical to what we run at their levels which is very helpful.
"It probably starts coming out in the sophomore year. And you hope as they transition from sophomores to juniors at the varsity level it becomes even more of an instinct."
All nine Houghton varsity players scored Tuesday with Jurmu's 20 points leading the way. Where last year it was Taylor Dillinger, Joey Carroll, Hannah Hill and Adeline Grier-Welch leading the way, Jurmu, Blaire Zenner (seven rebounds, four blocks), Taylor's younger sister Sydney (seven steals), Kelsie Richards (11 points) and Johnson (10 points) will all be threats on the fast break this season.
Jurmu in particular was a force against the Lady Vikings, gliding to the hoop for layup after layup as she beat the defense consistently on the fast break.
"Elisa is a competitor," Filpus said. "And we are replacing five starters but Elisa was a good player for us last year as a sophomore. We will rely on her heavily and her intensity rubs off on everybody."
Baraga recovered from the first half blowout to put together two strong quarters at the end.
The Vikings actually outscored Houghton 13-12 in the third period with Shannon Fish leading the way netting 10 points.
"This is nothing to be down about," Dunham said. "Our second half effort was awesome. We improved every quarter. I'm honestly glad we had this as our first game because I would rather have it now and let the girls know what our weaknesses are right now. We will learn from this."