The Storm Lake High girls basketball team is a work in progress, so coach Stacey VanDerSloot expects ups and downs.
After Tuesday night's 70-42 loss to a surging Spencer team, she's staying the course.
"We've got to keep working, keep plugging away and we'll get better," she said after the game. "We saw some good things out there tonight, but obviously, we still have a lot to work on."
The Tigers, who improved to 5-3 overall and 4-2 in Lakes Conference play, are starting to put things together after being hit early with injuries and illness.
All season, top scorer Marni Jacobsen has been playing with an injured thumb. Others have been hit with the flu bug so even basic things like conditioning have been factors. Jacobsen is back at full strength and leads the Lakes Conference in scoring at 21.3 points per game.
"We started the season slow, but tonight, we started to see what kind of team we thought we had at the beginning of the season," Tiger coach Don Martindale said.
Offensively Tuesday night, Spencer had an inside-outside attack that looked unstoppable.
Jacobsen lit it up in the paint, finishing with 22 points. Emily Wassom, a 5-foot-7 guard, was on fire from beyond the arc, hitting seven three-pointers and recording 22 points.
"It's tough to beat any team when they shoot like that," VanDerSloot said. "We stayed with them for the first half, but we just couldn't keep up with them in the third and fourth quarters."
The Tornadoes (0-7, 1-8) trailed 16-4 after one quarter, but turned things up a notch both offensively and defensively in the second.
With 40 seconds left in the opening half, the Tornadoes had cut the lead to ten at 24-14 and had the ball.
They turned it over and Wassom spotted out to the right corner and swished a three. With 12 seconds left, Storm Lake turned the ball over again, and Spencer's Emily Holck hit another three, this one from the left side.
The Tornadoes were on the wrong side of an eight-point swing over the last 40 seconds of the second quarter and trailed 30-14 at the half.
"Storm Lake does some things really well," Martindale said. "I thought they played us tough on the defensive end at times, and they really rebound the ball well. They'll get some wins before the season ends."
"The three pointers (at the end of the first half) were tough on us because we thought we'd go into halftime down by just ten or 11 points," Storm Lake junior post player Amanda Proczak said.
She added that it was a typical night for the team.
"I thought we rebounded well and we ran our offense better in the second half," she said. "We still didn't get back on defense a few times and we just have to get better at that."
Spencer, meanwhile, started the second half the way it ended the first - with a scoring run.
Wassom got the Tigers going by nailing a three-point shot - the Tigers' third straight - and after a two-point basket by Abby Salton, Jacobsen scored a traditional three-point play. One minute, 54 seconds into the third quarter, the Tigers led 40-14.
The Tornadoes scored their first points of the quarter at the 4:29 mark, when freshman guard Slone Masters made a three-point shot.
Jacobsen countered with two straight two-point baskets as Spencer led 44-17 after three quarters.
"We play well at times," Proczak added. "At other times, we just all of a sudden fall apart."
Masters led the Tornado attack with 11 points, but was the only SLHS player in double figures. Junior guard Amber Woodford hit two three-point shots and finished with seven points, while Lindsay Guenther and Cassie Meylor each added four.
Also reaching double figures for the Tigers was 5-10 sophomore guard Brittany Peterson, who registered 11 points.
VanDerSloot says her team has a good shot at getting its first Lakes Conference win Friday night when it hosts Cherokee.
"We'll have to play better, but (Cherokee) is a team we should be able to beat," she said.