The following preview is featured as a WEB EXTRA for the Lake County Leader website (www.leaderadvertiser.com).
The article draws substantially upon observations made over previous season(s) of several of the players who will comprise the 2009-10 Polson Lady Pirate basketball teams. The full complement of the varsity roster will remain in process for much of the season. Therefore, the reader should take into account that some of those mentioned below does not necessarily mean they will find themselves elevated to or remain at varsity status if it is determined that they would benefit either from additional seasoning or further development at certain aspects of the game. Should injuries occur or new talent emerge, adaptations to the roster are liable to occur at any time. Coaches attempt to field a team with those who display the highest level of skills that will provide the most competitive level of play on the court. Given the preceding disclaimer, it was felt that providing a few savory appetizers for area basketball fans would help whet the appetite for the upcoming roundball season, and it is with these considerations in mind that the following comments are offered.
additional area basketball surveys can be viewed in the Lake County Leader (Th. 3 Dec 2009), B2,10
Preseason Girls Basketball Preview: 2009-10 Polson Lady Pirates
by John Heglie for the Leader
photos courtesy of Mike Humphrey (www.mikehumphrey.net) unless otherwise specified
Last season the Polson Lady Pirates (5-5 conf., 10-12 overall) finished fourth in conference at the end of the regular season, but moved up a notch when they captured third at divisionals. Highlights included dealing Columbia Falls their only conference loss over the protesting arms of the twin tower DeWit sisters. After an opening round loss to Whitefish at divisional, the Lady Pirates redeemed themselves by squeezing by Libby by a mere point, though at the cost of losing senior guard Cali Hislop to a torn ACL. That set up a rematch with Whitefish and another chance to shut down conference scoring leader Kate Klundt, who had burned them for 32 points in the first contest. The Lady Pirates prevailed the second time round, applying better defense which held Klundt to less than half her total from that first meeting, thereby netting Polson the consolation championship. That victory set up a challenge game against the multi-talented Bigfork Valkyries for the right to go to state, the purple and gold falling short to end their postseason run.
Graduates from last season’s team include Sarah “Neutralizer” Newton, voted PHS Defensive MVP as well as recipient of the Tiffany (“Tigger”) Duford Spirit Award, the latter being conferred upon the recipient by fellow teammates for their display of character, leadership and inspiration among other considerations. Newton posted a seasonal double-triple in two statistical categories by the close of the divisionals (107 pts, 113 rebs), finishing 10th in the conference for rebounds during the regular season. But perhaps her most significant asset to the team was her capability to shut down scoring threats in the post when she wasn’t saddled with foul trouble, a penchant that will be sorely missed. Also graduating was Amanda “A.J.” James, who still managed to finish 5th in the conference for 3-point shooting despite missing the latter half of the season. Graduation also deprives the Lady Pirates of further contributions from all-conference 2nd-team forward Rochelle “Rock’n Ro” Woods (6.6 ppg) and the ball handling skills of guard Cali Hislop.
Several players from last season’s varsity will be devoting their time to other endeavors this winter. All-conference honorable-mention volleyball recipient Loni “Drop the Hammer” Havlovick, who would have provided the team with an additional presence in the post with her upper body strength – reflected by her high placement in field events during track – will focus her energies instead on mastering the demands of her final year of prep. Another senior who will be absent from the roster will be two-time all-state/all-conference 1st-team volleyball libero Staci “Sparkplug” Benson, who among other things will be that much better prepared for the upcoming spring softball season, a sport in which she excels at digging out flying round objects much like in volleyball. A pair of juniors will also no longer be in the mix this winter. All-conference 2nd-team volleyball selection “Slamm’in” Sallie Sams would have provided the Lady Pirates with an additional rebounding presence to go along with her shot blocking capability, skills that readily transfer over from the volleyball court. Sams will instead be diversifying her extra-curricular portfolio, opting to ply her athleticism as well as early training in ballet and dance from the sidelines in support of her former teammates as part of the cheerleading squad. Fellow junior reserve guard Kodi Woods, who brought quick reflexes that supplement her speed, will be that much better prepared for softball this coming spring.
Despite many vacancies, several varsity players returning from last winter reprise their place on the Lady Pirates roster for the upcoming season. Among them will be all-conference 1st-team and PHS Offensive MVP 5-9 junior Breanne Kelley (12 ppg), who warrants her nickname “Breezey” because she makes it look easy when she runs like the wind up and down the court, emerged among the TOP TEN last season in multiple categories (4th in 2-pt fg & steals, 6th in fg% & total pts, 7th in blocks). Between two contests she averaged an eyebrow-raising 30 points, thereby elevating her profile among opponents as a bona fide scoring threat that has to be factored into their defensive strategies.
Another is 5-9 all-conference 2nd-team senior Nicole Davey (7 rpg, 1.8 spg), who likewise posted a seasonal double-triple (137 pts, 155 reb) and made her presence known on the hardwood in a pair of statistical TOP TEN categories (7th in rebounds, 8th in steals). One wonders whether early symptoms of the ailment that waylaid her during track season may have hampered some of her productivity during the latter part of last winter. But with a healthy Davey this year, one anticipates that she will “Bring It” on the basketball court much like she did in volleyball.
Junior 5-7 Sierra “Speedy” Pete has the capability to blow by perimeter defenses and split defenders with bursts of speed as she drives her way to the basket. Pete opened last season with a 16 point outburst against Glacier, no mean feat when contending against AA opponents, but nagging injuries hampered her from approaching those kinds of numbers the remainder of the season. A healthy Pete would go far in allowing the Lady Pirates to step on the throttle in order to create more opportunities in transition.
Sophomore 5-10 Riley Kenney possesses that blend of height and athleticism which provide her with the potential of being an impact player over the years to come as she hones skills that will make her that much more formidable. Although she saw limited playing time as a freshman, she flirted with double digits at the divisional tournament as the season wound to a close. One anticipates she will breach that barrier several times before this upcoming season is over as she lulls those guarding her into complacency with her warm smile and friendly demeanor.
Volleyball all-conference 2nd-team 5-5 junior Kayla “Spirit Fingers” Duford has an aptitude for making things happen much like she does on the volleyball court, dishing the ball to teammates when lanes of opportunity are plugged. What Duford surrenders in height and speed she more than makes up for with savvy and heads-up positioning, often garnering boards and points that might otherwise swing the other way.
Junior 5-9 Marlee Berry has decent height and an exceptional work ethic that will take her far long after the basketball is put on the rack. While many of her teammates have been involved in other sports, she has been applying the dictum “practice makes perfect” with basketball in hand, honing her skills so that she will be good to go when situations that require her contributions arise.
One area of need to supplement the roster of returning Lady Pirates is a stable of guards who will be able to bring the ball up the court, feed teammates in position around the paint as well as loosen up packed defenses by sinking outside shots. One candidate is 5-5 sophomore Mariah Hamel, who has aspirations of playing at the collegiate level someday and demonstrates some of the skill sets that could bring such desires closer to fruition as she continues to develop. Hamel is a superb ball handler, has acute perception of what is going on around her on the court as well as solid shooting skills. Moved up from the frosh team to the JV ranks last season, she was added as an alternate for the divisional tournament. Had she clocked playing time at the varsity level during the regular season, she might well have been activated when Hislop went down during the tournament.
Junior 5-3 guard Kendyall Rochin is another with good ball handling skills who has a nice touch on her perimeter shot as well as can cut quickly in a multitude of directions, capabilities honed from time spent intercepting fuzzy yellow spheres on the tennis court. Rochin may have been one of those players on the bubble last season as she was extended an invitation to be an alternate for the divisional tournament.
It is anticipated that a number of other talented players will be called upon to make contributions at the varsity level in a variety of role situations as the season unfolds.
One of those is 5-8 sophomore Veda Mathias, who has some scoring capability much like her sister now playing at the collegiate level for SKC and whose contributions could become a factor as the season progresses.
An additional candidate at the position of guard could be 5-1 sophomore Macall Banner, whose ball handling capability could lend credence to one of her nicknames as she buzzes up and down the court. Banner also has a sharp eye for the basket that often netted her high scoring honors on the frosh team last season. Both Banner and Hamel are ambidextrous, shifting their dribble seamlessly from one hand to the other, making them more difficult for defenders to disrupt.
Sophomore 5-5 forward Jordan Quinn could help unwrap defenses that pack around the rim with her arsenal of outside shots from both inside and behind the arc as well as shackle opposition ball movement with her read of passing lanes.
One player not to be overlooked is 6-0 sophomore Sarah Cannon, who made significant strides last season and has the potential to draw greater attention down low as she continues to develop and master the game. One is tempted to draw some comparisons between Cannon and former Lady Pirate standout Kara Huyser, who played center for the last Polson team to go undefeated in conference (2005-06) and emerged as a force to be reckoned with during her junior and senior years.
The services of 5-3 junior Katie Finley of the state placing track relay team could be called upon should further depth and fresh legs be needed at guard.
A promising crop of incoming freshman that merit keeping an eye on this season and in years to come include Heidi Rausch (5-6) , Shay Duford (5-5), Anna DiGiallonardo (5-4), Mackenzie Banner (5-3), Amber Quequesah (5-4), Marlee Seemann (5-6), Daryl Conko-Camel (5-7), Tanisha Matt (5-7), Sidney Brackey, Brianda Jackman, Alyscia Fairchild, Kabrina Cordier, and Jordan Morgan.
Opponents are liable to have trouble keeping pace with a 2009-10 Lady Pirates team laden with state track placers, and some could find themselves puffing and wheezing if they opt to run with them the duration of the game up and down the court. But being endowed with some of the best speed in the conference doesn’t amount to much if that advantage can’t be translated into points on the scoreboard. Some of the Lady Pirates would be advised to pay close attention to their geometry and physics coursework so that they can make the most of their opportunities. Their grade after any contest will be contingent upon how well they integrate their speed with vectors of approach to the basket (avoid overrunning a shot), utilize arcs of trajectory to achieve the greatest yield (minimize rim out) and adapt their methods of release to maximize caroms off the glass (cut down bricks off the backboard).
Head coach Randy Kelley enters his third season at the helm of the Lady Pirates, assisted by Brad Fisher and Steve Davey. One area that will draw their focus this season will be boosting productivity at the free throw line. The charity strip has been an Achilles heel for the purple and gold the past couple of seasons. Several contests could have swung to the other side of the ledger had those on the floor been able to make a higher percentage of their free throws. Improvements in this area are sure to benefit from incorporating more BEEF (balance, eye, elbow, follow-thru) into their shooting diet. The annual challenge for any coaching staff is finding that unique blend of just the right ingredients, then getting your team to cook at just the right temperature so that they sizzle on the court while avoiding getting burned by the heat of competition.
The basketball season for Polson opens with the tip-off tournament jointly hosted by Polson and Ronan the weekend of December 11-12.
stats culled from nwmta website and/or provided courtesy of coach Randy Kelley