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Dompierre steps up scoring for Hartland, leading way in crunch-time win over Okemos

By: Matthew B. Mowery, December 9, 2018, 12:05 am

OKEMOS — Last year, the Hartland coaching staff put a lot on the shoulders of sophomore Nikki Dompierre, and at times, she struggled with the weight of those expectations.

This year, by necessity, the Eagles are going to need a lot from the junior, and so far, she’s come through.

Dompierre scored a game-high 20 points in Saturday’s 48-40 win over Okemos at the Start to March tournament, going 7-for-8 from the free-throw line, and a perfect 4-for-4 in the final minute, earning team MVP honors.

“She played well. Not to jinx her, but she struggled last year with the free throws in the clutch. Just struggled. Tonight, and in our game at Fenton, it’s just kind of lights out. Good for her. She’s a good kid. She worked through it,” Hartland coach Don Palmer said. “It was a tough year for her last year, because it seemed like the free throws were an issue, and then she just had to guard one great guard after another. It was trying — she was game for that, but still, she’s a sophomore — but we just kind of threw her to the wolves. Maybe now she is the wolf, I don’t know.”

Considering the cogs they’ve had to replace offensively, it’s a welcome sight for Palmer’s staff.

Among others, the Eagles have graduated high scoring all-staters Lexey Tobel (University of Detroit Mercy) and Graysen Cockerham (Goshen College) over the past two seasons. With the Eagles having to start the season without 6-foot-4 Whitney Sollom, who is recovering from knee surgery, there are a lot of points that need to be replaced.

And quite a bit of that is going to fall on Dompierre, as the team’s most experienced player.

“I definitely knew I had to step it up a little bit, and become more of a leader, but we had good people that came in to replace some of the offense,” Dompierre said. “We’ve just gotta work at it this year.”

The Eagles (2-0) got eight points each from freshman Amanda Roach and junior Madi Moyer, who was a reserve a year ago. Sophomores Syd Caddell and Lillee Gustafson both contributed four points, with the latter carrying the brunt of trying to match up with Okemos all-stater Jasmine Clerkley in the post. And freshman Leah Lappin nailed a 3-pointer early in the fourth, as the Eagles put on a 6-0 run to stretch their lead out to 10 points, at 41-31.

Hartland started the second half fast, too, with a 9-0 run turning a one-point halftime deficit into a seven-point lead.

Okemos (1-2) just couldn’t seem to find the extra gear to catch all the way up from those deficits, part of that a matter of scheduling. The Chiefs were coming off a 56-46 loss to Grand Ledge Friday night, and the resultant fatigue was evident in the latter stages of Saturday’s game.

“Toward the end of the game, their legs weren’t there. I know high school kids think they can go forever, but back-to-back is hard,” Palmer said.

Okemos coach Kristen Rasmussen tried to do what she could to mitigate that disadvantage.

“We tried to mix up some defenses, just to give them a little bit of a breather every now and then, but when you do that against a team like Hartland, they’re pretty solid at each position,” she said. “You’re kind of trying to trick them.”

What the Eagles were doing defensively was also a factor.

Once a Michigan State commit, before re-opening her recruiting, the 6-foot Clerkly had eight first-half points in the paint, and finished with 16 total, but half of her points after halftime came from the free-throw line, as the Eagles quickly doubled both her and Miss Basketball candidate Laya Hartman (Northwestern). Hartman finished with 15 points before fouling out in the final minute, earning team MVP honors.

“They knew our personnel pretty well. Obviously knowing Jas and Laya, and playing them together, they had that (plan) that they just took one person off the wings, and they just came over and doubled it immediately. Our wings needs to just recognize that their defense is leaving, and they should just move as well. But it’s just little things. I think once they see it on film, they’ll be able to adjust to it. At least that’s the optimistic look that I’m going to take on it,” Rasmussen said.

“Overall, I was pleased with the way they came out, especially after coming off of a tough loss last night. Not our best weekend, but it’s good that this stuff is happening early on in the season, because then we can see what we need to work on, and the girls can watch a little bit of film, so they can at least see what we’re talking about, because it’s really hard for them — especially after two losses in a row — to listen and understand exactly what we’re talking about. I just told them to keep their heads up.”

Okemos cut Hartland’s lead down to four on a Hartman jumper, then made it just a one-possession game at 41-38 when Clerkley split from the free-throw line with 1:37 left. But the Chiefs would get just one more field goal — a Clerkley bucket with 17.3 left — while Moyer, Roach and Caddell all hit free throws in the final 83 seconds, and Dompierre canned four, closing out the win.

“I thought it was a good win, because this is a good team. … Tonight’s a good night, but I’ve found with young teams, every night’s different,” Palmer said. “For us, we have a senior on the team that doesn’t play, so tonight’s roster was two sophomores, four freshmen, two juniors, so it’s a big win. If we get the big kid (Whitney Sollom) back — and there’s a lot to that, because it’s gotta blend then. She’s gotta learn to play with them now.”

The elder of two sisters on the roster — 6-foot-1 freshman Lauren Sollom saw time in the Hartland front court — Whitney Sollom is probable to return before the calendar flips over to January, but the Eagles aren’t hurrying her back.

“The last thing, she had a doctor’s appointment on Nov. 27, and they didn’t clear her. The next one is December 18. We’re hopeful. The knee is sound, but they wanted her to strengthen the quads around the knee, so we’re focusing on that,” Palmer said, noting that the surgery required a bone graft. “We’ll take our time with it. It’s gotta be good — when she comes back, she’s gotta be able to trust it, and she’s gotta be able to play a few minutes where she can trust it.”