Stewartville vs. Lourdes Girls Basketball

Stewartville's Lily Welch (12) goes up for a shot as Lourdes' Anna Otto (13) defends during a game last week. Welch is a two-sport star at Stewartville and averages 19 points per game in basketball this season. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

It’s not every day that the lighter side of Lily Welch shows up.

But when it does, Jill Welch takes notice.

“When it happens, we’ll say, ‘Hey, the goofy Lily is here!’” said Jill, Lily’s mother. “But she does have that side to her. We can get her going.”

Silliness, though, is clearly not what inspires her most. It’s competition, whether that be on the basketball or volleyball court, or in the classroom, where the Stewartville senior carries a near-perfect 3.99 GPA and hopes to pursue nuclear medicine in college.

It’s been that way for as long as her mother can remember.

“Lily is a very passionate (girl) who works hard for everything she gets,” Jill said. “She’s very serious, quiet and focused. But she’s come out of her shell the last few years. She’s really blossomed that way.”

That includes her taking lead roles recently not only in sports, but activities such as Key Club, National Honor Society and Student Council.

Athletically, it’s tough to come up with many southeastern Minnesota female athletes who’ve blossomed like Welch. A 5-feet-9 senior, Welch helped Stewartville to a state championship this past fall in volleyball, doing it as a masterfully strategic and skilled outside hitter. Welch became renowned for tapping the ball precisely where opponents weren’t on the other side of the net, always seeming one step ahead of them mentally.

In basketball, where she’s been a five-year varsity player, the skill that comes to mind first for Stewartville coach Ryan Liffrig is Welch’s ability to put the ball in the basket. She’s gotten better there every year, having gone from averaging 10 points as a freshman, to 14 as a sophomore, to 17 as a junior and now 19 this season. And can she ever make free throws. She buried 38 straight this season, fifth best all-time in the state.

“Lily knows how to create her own shot,” said Liffrig, whose Tigers are roaring with a 10-5 record and winners of nine of their last 11 games. “She’s as good a player as we’ve had at that. She’s got a great pull-up midrange shot. 

Skills aside, what separates Welch is her drive. Winning isn’t everything to her, but it’s close.

“I want my team to do well and I love cheering on my teammates,” Welch said. “But I am a very competitive player. I hate losing and I never give up on the game. I just do what I can and work as hard as I can.”

That’s been here approach from the beginning. When Liffrig took over as head varsity coach in 2015, the Tigers were a bit of a disaster. They finished that season 5-22, making it easier for Liffrig to call up such eighth-graders as Welch.

When he organized summer basketball stuff leading up to that first season, and the one after, attendance was sporadic. 

But there was one person he could almost always count on being there. That was Welch, ball under her arm, ready to get better.

Her serious approach was already in full bloom.

“The big thing about Lily is that she’s coachable,” Liffrig said. “She is driven, motivated, smart and always engaged. Even when she’s doing drills in the off-season she is fully engaged, always wanting to do it the correct way. While others might horse around, Lily is going to take it seriously.”

Nobody has become more familiar with Welch’s approach to sports and life than Anna Buckmeier, a fellow Stewartville senior and basketball player who’s been friends with Welch since their early grade-school days.

As competitive as Buckmeier admits Welch is, she considers the quietly driven Welch much more than that.

The likely best way to describe Welch is to simply call her a winner.

She knows how.

“Lily cares for everyone but also pushes them to be the best person they can be,” Buckmeier said. “She stands up for you and makes sure that you’re succeeding. She’s the definition of a good friend.”

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