Exchange student brings solid hoop background to Lady Cardinals squad

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Triad’s Emma Vanninem goes up for a basket against Fairbanks’ Emily Wilson on Saturday. The exchange student from Finland led the Lady Cardinals with 19 points.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
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A new face in the Triad girls basketball lineup brings a wealth of hoop experience to the 2017-18 Lady Cardinals’ squad.
Emma Vanninen is an exchange student from Finland who is spending the entire school year at Triad as a junior.
Vanninen has a good deal of experience on the court, having started playing the game 11 years ago as a six-year-old.
She talked with the Journal-Tribune after Saturday afternoon’s victory over Fairbanks.
Vanninen explained there is no high school basketball like we know it in her homeland.
Instead, there are what are called “sports schools” spread throughout the country.
She attends one of those schools and averaged between 16 and 17 points per game last season.
Vanninen, whose host parents while in this country are Mike and Martha Sanger, comes from a basketball family. Both of her parents played on Finnish national teams and her brother Benjamin currently does the same.
“There are four different levels of national play in Finland,” she said after scoring 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds against the Lady Panthers. “I started at the lower levels and now am playing in what would be considered a Division I-II division.”
Vanninen, who is averaging 14 points and 8.3 rebounds per game for Triad, was asked to compare basketball in her part of the world with American hoops.
“The international style of basketball we play at home is more physical than the American game,” she said. “American basketball runs more basic plays with some patterns.
“The European-style offenses we play are more detailed with more screen plays.”
When Vanninen returns to Finland, she will have one more year to play in what Americans would consider high school basketball.
There are no college-level hoops per se in Finland, but there is a national division that has college-like talent playing in it.
Vanninen said she would like to continue on to that upper level of national play and beyond.
“I would really like to play professional basketball in Europe some day,” she said.
Lady Cardinal coach Jeff Merklin has nothing but good things to say about Vanninen.
He talked to the Journal-Tribune after Saturday’s victory.
“Emma really got us started today, especially in the second quarter when we had been struggling offensively,” he said.  “The thing that’s so nice about her game is that she is a classic European post who can score not only from in the paint, but she can also step outside and hit the three.
“She’s a natural post player and she’s already improved our play in that area (after two games),” he said. “By having Emma in the post, we can put other players at their more proper positions.”
Merklin said he also likes the way Vanninen carries herself on the court.
“She just exudes confidence and she brings a cut of excellence to our team,” he said. “She brings a high level of basketball to us since she has played a great deal of international ball.”



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