Gwinn girls basketball team looks for new identity with new coach Justin Maki

Gwinn’s Lena Pleaugh, right, sinks this 3-point shot while being guarded by Negaunee’s Chloe Norman in a game at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium in Negaunee on Jan. 21, 2020. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

GWINN — It was tough sledding last year for the Gwinn girls basketball team, going 1-12 in a shortened season.

Now with new coach Justin Maki taking over the program after being an assistant for both girls and boys programs, Gwinn looks to improve this season.

Maki had coached under Ben Olsen and Shelle Olsen and is used to managing the X’s and O’s side of things. After partaking in the decision-making process more and more as their relationship grew, Maki is now enjoying the intangibles of overseeing an entire program as its head coach.

“I enjoy it, I try to accommodate for the girls, I’m pretty understanding of what’s going on in their lives, that kind of thing,” Maki said. “I do like overseeing it, I’m big on little stuff matters, we do everything for a reason.”

Gwinn will lean on junior point guard Lena Pleaugh to run the offense this season. Last year, the Modeltowners lost Pleaugh to a season-ending injury.

“It’s nice having Lena, she’s obviously our point guard, she runs our offense, she’s got a lot of freedom on what’s called on the court,” Maki said. “She’s got a good sense of the game, she sees the game well, she’s got a very high basketball IQ. To have someone like that and having a leader like that, she’s a second coach.”

Players that Maki also expects to step up are Jordana Hardy, Grace Anderson and Jada LaCount as each of them has varsity experience. What the season comes down to for Gwinn, according to Maki, is improving as a team.

“That’s our main priority, is that we have to improve,” Maki said. “It’s like closing the gap in a sense, right? I’m looking at game film already, I’m looking at scores seeing who we’ve got, what kind of team we have. We have a whole different identity than we did last year, obviously with Lena being out and having (now graduated) Tianna (Taylor) and (Eliina) Miilu, they brought different things to the game.

“With the group we have now, right now they’ve bought in. They’re completely bought in, they know their role, they know what they can do inside their game and what they shouldn’t be doing.

“I think if we pay attention to detail and we trust each other, we’ll have more wins than one for sure. For the most part, it’s what we are doing compared to what the other teams are doing, especially to start the season.”

At the start, Gwinn opens with five of its first six games at home in E.L. Miller Gymnasium. After falling in the first game to Gladstone 60-42 on Tuesday, the Modeltowners have their next crack at their first win at 7:15 p.m. Monday against Bark River-Harris. To become a better basketball team, it all starts with being good at home.

“It is nice to have a home-court advantage, and if you want to be a good team, you have to win at home,” Maki said. “You have to have people come in (visiting opponents) hesitant on playing you at home.

“We just have to make sure that we handle business and if we can get a true home-court advantage and make it where it’s hard playing at Gwinn, that’s one of my goals taking over the program, is I want people coming into Gwinn to feel a little timid.

“I want it to be a hard place to play.”

Travis Nelson can be reached by email at tnelson@miningjournal.net.


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