By Matt Turer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield Catholic Lady Irish head coach Mike Foley saw nothing but improvement in his first year at the helm.
After a 2-8 start to the season, the Lady Irish ripped off seven consecutive wins and nearly upset a 21-win Ava team in the Class 4 District 11 tournament. That seven-game win streak included wins over four opponents who finished the season over .500.
Catholic finished the year 11-14 and averaged 45.2 points per game—the program’s highest win total since the 2017-18 season and best PPG average since putting up 49.5 PPG in 2016-17.
“They started buying into what we were doing and got comfortable with it, and we had a good end to the year,” Foley said. “It was a good, successful season in that sense.”
The program seems to be moving forward already under Foley, who reported 26 girls who came out to compete with the team this year. Just three years ago, that number was just 14.
“We have a big freshman class coming in, and a lot of people want to be a part of the program,” Foley said. “I try to make it fun. You want to have success and win a lot of games.”
The Irish graduated four seniors last season but have even more senior leadership heading into 2021-22, led by All-Big 8 East second-teamer and team captain Avery Swisshelm (G/F, 5’7”), Avery Ahlstrand (C, 5’11”), Grace Wohlgemuth (G), Mallory Wilson (F), Jordan Howe (F) and Kyleigh Pfitzner (G).
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Swisshelm is the team’s leading returning scorer, averaging 10.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game in 2020-21.
“Avery is a gym rat,” Foley said. “She played with a Kansas City team all summer and has some aspirations of playing in college.”
Ahlstrand, who also plays volleyball for the Irish, averaged 7.0 PPG and 4.0 RPG last season. She will be a co-captain.
Sophomore guard Katie Galligos appeared in 20 games last season, averaging 4.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 2.0 APG and 1.0 SPG.
“Galligos is a really good young player,” Foley said. “Good ball handler, shooter and has a good grasp of the game. She should have a breakout year running our offense.”
The Irish also welcome junior forward Avery Bowler, freshman guard Peyton Wiseman and freshman forward/center Lila Griesmer.
Griesmer, who stands at 5’11”, is already a state tennis champion.
“She has everything you need to play varsity basketball except experience,” Foley said.
The Lady Irish will jamboree at Mansfield with Hillcrest and Blue Eye before opening their season in the 41st annual Fair Grove Tournament on November 29.
“We have a lot of girls who are really good soccer players, tennis players and golfers who have all been to state championships,” Foley said. “Basketball is their winter sport to keep them in shape. I want to produce some girls who go on to college for basketball, but right now they’re going in another direction and they’re just good athletes, so we want to try to have success and move our athletic department forward.”