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How drastically improved Jessi Ernst is helping fuel Pardeeville girls basketball's strong start

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Jessi Ernst

Pardeeville senior Jessi Ernst contests a shot by Markesan's Sienna Jahnke during the first half of Monday night's Trailways West Conference game at Pardeeville High School.

Year-to-year growth is expected in high school basketball.

Juniors, like Pardeeville’s Jessi Ernst, are anticipated to take a major step after their sophomore seasons.

The Bulldogs 6-foot-2 center may be rewriting the playbook with how she’s started this season however, helping fuel the Pardeeville high school girls basketball team to a 4-1 start following Monday’s 45-27 win over Markesan.

Ernst has been instrumental in the Bulldogs high-flying start, which has them tied atop the Trailways West Conference as one of two remaining unbeatens alongside Randolph, ranked No. 2 in the initial coaches poll.

Pardeeville’s top post presence is averaging a team-best 18 points per game, a massive increase from her 5.1 points per game last season. Ernst has scored 20 or more points three times already this season, including 20 in the win over the Hornets, and eclipsed last year’s season-high of 11 points in every single game.

“It’s awesome and you can tell she put a ton of effort into the summer,” Pardeeville coach Joe Guenther said of Ernst. “(She) grew a couple inches and that didn’t’ hurt, but she definitely put the time in this summer in the weight room and on the basketball court, and this is the result.”

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That hard work, according to Ernst, was helped spurred along by her AAU coaches at the DeForest based Wisconsin Elite, as well as Guenther and the rest of the Pardeeville staff. And at the heart of it was just an overall drive to improve.

Admittedly, Ernst said she didn’t work on “anything super specific.”

“Just post moves and drills on just everything,” she added. “Not specifically working in the post, but working everywhere.”

Still, the attention to her work on the block has stood out to Guenther. The second-year coach noted Ernst’s improvement on her feet, but also her ball handling skills.

“With her hands she’s gotten stronger; she’s handling the ball stronger, being stronger with the ball and she’s physically dominant down there right now,” he said, comparing how well she’s played to Randolph’s Jorey Buwalda, a first-team All-Trailways West pick, as well as a Div. 5 All-State selection by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association.

“She’s playing just as well as her,” Guenther added. “I’m so proud of her and she’s improved tons over the summer.”

It’s definitely meant a lot to the Bulldogs, who have already matched more than half of their win total from last season after finishing 7-12. Guenther made sure Ernst’s hard work didn’t go to waste either, switching the Bulldogs offensive scheme to better highlight their weapon down low, utilizing screens and cuts to get mismatches and score in the paint.

“Coming into the season I knew that’s what we had to do,” Guenther said. “Looking at Jessi and watching her practice the first week of the season, it was a no-brainer.”

Ernst has been just as imperative to the Bulldogs’ defensive success and their 1-3-1 look. She’s averaging 11.5 rebounds per game while adding 2 blocks and 1.8 steals. Like her offseason efforts, Ernst said the Bulldogs have worked diligently on defense.

“We’ve worked on that a lot at practices and stuff, just doing different things with our 1-3-1 defense,” she said. “That’s helped us a lot and we have a strong defense, create a lot of steals and have some strong players.”

Follow Sean Davis on Twitter @SDavis_PDR or call him at 608-745-3512.

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