Talented newcomers have Eagle girls optimistic entering season
Maranatha Academy girls basketball coach Mark Schultze likes what he sees.
According to Schultze, the 2011-12 campaign has a chance to be one of the best the program has ever seen — and it begins with the numbers.
Twenty-three girls attended tryouts. That is five more than Schultze has ever had come out for one season during his tenure at Maranatha. The 23 included 12 freshmen who have enabled Schultze to put together a full freshman/sophomore squad for competition.
The next positive for Schultze is the leadership he’s seen in the form of varsity captains Brittany Espinoza and Cassie Fulk. Espinoza, a junior, will start at the high post while Fulk looks to be the team’s starting two-guard. With these two running the show, Schultze has a level of confidence he’s rarely had as the Eagles’ coach.
“It’s very encouraging,” he said. “These girls sure help me distribute some of our responsibilities. It all started with our summer camp which went wonderfully, and these girls started to show their leadership then.”
The positives continued through last week’s tryout process and first week of practice. An athletic freshman class joined with the veteran leadership of the team, meshing so well that it gave Schultze some renewed optimism.
“What has happened is that we’ve found out we have a much stronger and deeper varsity team than we’ve had before,” Schultze said. “Before, I could only go six or seven deep. This year, I think we have 10-12 girls who could see significant minutes. Right now, we don’t have a ‘star’ player, but we have a lot of girls who are equally equipped.”
Schultze has long been a fan of using a pressing defense anchored by guards who harass dribblers in the front court. However, in recent years, the Eagles have had too many occasions in which they fell behind early, minimizing the usefulness of the press. This year, Schultze believes the talent of his athletes may help the team stick around longer.
“We’ll be better able to press than we ever have been,” Schultze said. “I’ve got some pretty talented freshmen, including five who made the varsity squad. I think one thing we’re going to do is that we’re going to score in spurts. All of my starters will have been with me at least three years — some of them four. We’ve averaged around 40 points a game and we’re hoping that average goes up by about 10 points. We should be able to run our designed fast break in which everybody has their spots to run, plus a secondary break.”
The key for Schultze and his staff is to get the freshmen into the mix as quickly as possible. Though his juniors and seniors are familiar with the head coach’s system and expectations, there will still be a learning curve for the newcomers.
“Probably the most important thing right now is the assimilation and integration of the freshmen,” Schultze stated. “They’re still learning how to play as fast as I want us to play. For me, that means that we need to move the ball and pass the ball quickly.”
Schultze also praised some of his veteran players whom he expects to start in the team’s first game Dec. 1 at Immaculata.
“Brooke Buckner is a junior who I really expect to score and rebound inside for us,” Schultze said. “She’s going to be a starting low post player for us, and she really started to show some scoring flair for us last year. Our other wing is going to be Haley McConnell who is a junior. She showed the most marked improvement during tryouts and she should grow as a slasher and a scorer for us.
“Maturity-wise, our best player is our point guard, Mary Chapin-Patch. She’s a junior. She may not be the quickest guard in the league, but her decision-making and distribution is where she’s really shown her maturity.”
The 2011-12 Eagles will have their hands full in a top-heavy Crossroads Conference which features strong teams from Barstow Academy, St. Mary’s, and Cass-Midway. Still, Schultze has enough confidence in the talent and depth of his squad to declare them a threat to the conference’s top teams.
“I think we ought to be able to compete in every game,” Schultze said. “I believe that, if everything jells, we could get farther in the postseason than we ever have.”