Menominee’s Allia Stewart passes over a St. Thomas Aquinas defender during a Maroon fast-break during their game Monday night. EagleHerald/Tom Kaeser
Menominee’s Allia Stewart passes over a St. Thomas Aquinas defender during a Maroon fast-break during their game Monday night. EagleHerald/Tom Kaeser
MENOMINEE - Quickness, good size and an emphasis on pressure defense should help the Menominee girls' basketball team make a big step up in the Great Northern Conference this year.

The Maroons were firing on all cylinders in a shakedown cruise past St. Thomas Aquinas Academy Monday despite going five days without practice.

Lucas Chouinard, in his second year as coach of the Maroons, likes the athletic ability of his squad and expects a big improvement from last year's 1-7 mark in the Great Northern Conference.

With three starters back and seven seniors with extensive playing time last year, Chouinard expects a big turnaround from last year's 10-12 team which advanced to the district title game.

"With so many seniors back and the districts at home this year, the seniors want to go out with a win in the district finals on their homecourt," Chouinard said.

Menominee struggled with shooting and turnovers last year, but Chouinard expects stronger offensive numbers.

The Maroons were held under 40 points eight times in the regular season last year and Chouinard expects that to change.

Better offensive production this year will turn losses into victories because the Maroons allowed 45 or less points 11 times last season.

"We're going to be a team-oriented defense," Chouinard said. "I'm so proud of the way they played against St. Thomas. Everyone helped each other out.

"The girls have three goals - shoot at least 45 percent, take care of the basketball and play solid defense without making fouls."

Senior center Amanda Pedersen (6-0), senior point guard Lexi Christian (5-7) and senior guard Allia Stewart (5-3) were starters last year, while senior forwards Maddy Anderla (5-6) and Paige Owens (5-9), senior guards Allison Barley (5-4) and Amber Woods (5-6) all turned in quality playing time last year. Anderla and Barley will start against Marinette tonight.

Pedersen, Owens and junior Amanda Simmons (6-0) give the Maroons a potent front line and Chouinard pointed out that his inside players can also score from the perimeter.

"I can't say enough good things about (Pedersen)," the coach said. "She's a leader by example. She always works hard. She should be a real dominant force.

"Paige will give teams match-up problems because she's not just an inside player and (Simmons) is going to be a vital key to our success."

Stewart (5-3) is a turnover machine on defense with her quick hands and feet and she will help ignite the Maroons' transition game. Christian will once again lead Menominee's up-tempo attack at point guard.

"She did an excellent job last year and with 20 games last year that should really help her in her senior year," said Chouinard.

"We want to get the girls out and running. The biggest thing we have to do is convert. It's going to be very important that we finish the deal on our fast-breaks."

Junior guard Madison McDonnell (5-6) showed a nice shooting touch against St. Thomas and junior Danielle Saucier (5-8) will also see time in the backcourt. Juniors Brooke Demmith (5-8, forward/center), Alison Nordquist (5-5 forward) and Katie Unkenholz (5-6 forward), Tristin Tiesling (5-5 guard) and Tess Mathias (6-0) will see playing time off the bench.

"The juniors are doing a good job of getting used to the speed of varsity basketball," said Chouinard.

The Maroons will have eight games to prepare for their Great Northern Conference opener against Escanaba Jan. 13.

Beth Lee and Ashley Owens are assistant coaches and Brandon Chouinard, Justin Brilinski and Shaun Sullivan are the student managers.