ONALASKA — The Melrose-Mindoro High School girls basketball team knew there was some pressure going in to its opening game of the season against Onalaska Luther on Tuesday.

The Mustangs returned to the court after finishing as last season’s WIAA Division 4 state runner-up, and they returned with the same five starters. Junior Mesa Byom played a large part in Melrose-Mindoro’s 57-19 win over the Knights, but she also felt the initial jitters once the ball was first tossed up.

“I came out kind of nervous at first because I didn’t know how the game would go,” said the 6-foot-2 forward who committed to Division I South Dakota State during the offseason. “I just thought to myself that I just need to play my game, and people got me in the post, so that definitely helped.”

Melrose-Mindoro's Erika Simmons

Melrose-Mindoro's Erika Simmons shoots over Onalaska Luther's Jalen Schwichtenberg in the first half of Tuesday's game. The Mustangs won 57-19.

Byom had 15 points and future South Dakota State teammate — and current teammate, too — Emily Herzberg chipped in with 11. Despite the team’s high-scoring offense, the real highlights came on the defensive end of the court, according to Melrose-Mindoro coach Joey Arneson.

“We pride ourselves in our defense each game,” he said. “The defense is played from the heart, and we may have bad nights offensively but we should never have a bad night defensively because the defense is played from the heart, and it shows how bad you wanted (the win).”

The Mustangs defense was there from the start of the game and held the KNights (0-1) to six points in the first half. But while the defense was busy staying tough and in charge, the offense sputtered a bit.

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The Mustangs were just 9-for-27 from the free throw line and the offensive plays that worked for the Mustangs last year aren’t working just yet, according to Arneson.

“Our free throws were very poor tonight, so that’s something we have to address. We tried running a lot of offensive sets,” Arneson said. “They just weren’t there, but that’s to be expected early in the season.”

Improving on the offense and maintaining a strong-willed defense is being done in hopes of reaching the state tournament for the second straight season. The idea of making it to Green Bay for back-to-back appearances is made to seem more tangible with the confidence boost of starting the season off with a 38-point win.

“Definitely, now, this year we have higher goals and knowing what we can do definitely gives us that confidence,” Byom said. “Now that we’ve earned (the first win) our really important and obvious main is to go there (state tournament) and get to the championship and hopefully take another ball home.”

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