To lose the post player and point guard from a state-qualifying team is challenging enough. When they’re both all-league performers, the void feels even bigger.
Despite the graduation of standouts Dakota Kaufman and Candace Weinbrenner, Hillsboro coach Nathan Hiebert is upbeat about this year’s squad.
“We lost our top assist person, our top rebounder and our top scorer—now it’s just having it come from a different spot,” Hiebert said. “This year we’ve got a lot of girls that can bring a lot of different positives to our team. We’ve been rotating 14 girls in practice.
“I’m excited because we have girls with talent in a lot of different areas,” he added. “But I’m not going to say how many games we’re going to win, just because I don’t how they will respond (in game situations).”
Two starters return from the 2009-10 Trojan squad that finished 18-6 overall and 10-1 in the Mid-Central Activities Association last winter.
Senior Allie Faul (5 feet, 6 inches), a two-year starter, was the team’s third-leading scorer (6.1) as a guard and a 35 percent shooter. She demonstrated her ability to be a strong team leader during the volleyball season.
But no one on the roster illustrates the diversity of options Hiebert enjoys this season than Tena Loewen, who broke into the starting lineup last year as a freshman and finished as the team’s second-leading scorer (6.3) and rebounder (5.2). She received all-league honorable mention.
At 5-10, Loewen has the height, athleticism and skills to play any position on the court.
“We’re going to expect a lot out of her,” Hiebert said. “She’s just a fantastic athlete and has an incredible work effort in whatever she does. You might see her in a lot of different positions this year.”
Working to fill the large void at the post position are senior Emma Heyen (5-11) and junior Krista Reimer (5-9). Both made the varsity last season but got most of their playing time with a junior varsity team that finished 14-4.
“They’re really battling it out for that position and have done some nice things,” Hiebert said of the pair. “They’ve been working extremely hard and have improved a lot.”
Working to fill the void at forward due to the transfer of the Trojans’ fifth starter, Franny Gottsch, are senior Elise Heyen (5-10) and junior Courtney Weber (5-7).
“Elise is a slasher and can get around the basket,” Hiebert said. “Courtney can do the same, but she has a nice jump shot as well.”
The Trojan coach, now in his fourth season, has two returning letter-winners who join Faul as experienced varsity guards: Becky Faber, a 5-4 senior, and Callie Serene, a 5-4 junior 3-point specialist who shot nearly 44 percent (17-39) from behind the arc.
“Becky does some solid things on defense and can hit the open jumper,” Hiebert said. “It’s just a matter of getting her into some good situations.
“Callie can really stretch out a zone and even cause some problems when teams play man because they have to know where she’s at,” he said. “She’s probably one of our best shooters, and if she’s not out there looking for a shot, she becomes like everyone else—and you don’t want her to be like everyone else.”
The remaining members of Hiebert’s varsity talent pool could step in either as a guard or forward following a solid year of JV ball. They include junior Amy Bartel (5-8) and sophomores Maci Schlehuber (5-9) and Christina Morris (5-5).
Two freshmen, Danae Bina (5-6) and Addie Lackey (5-7) are competing for varsity time, too.
“There might be some games where I’m playing all 12 girls on the bench,” Hiebert said. “One game you may have one group of starters, another game you may have a different group of starters.”
Bench depth will be important if his team can establish an up-tempo attack.
“We’ll have to see if we can play that style, but if we have 12 to 15 girls, we can push it hard for a couple of minutes and then keep it going with a new set of players,” he said.
In the first year of the Central Kansas League, Hiebert sees former MCAA foes Nickerson and Hesston as the teams to beat. He also looks for Pratt, Smoky Valley and Haven to be strong.
Until he sees how his talent comes together in game situations, Hiebert said he isn’t sure how his team fits into the mix.
“I’d like to say we can be toward the top, and I truly believe we can,” he said. “But after the first week (of practice), I realized there are a lot of things we have to get better at in order to get back to where we need to be.”
Hiebert should get an early indication of his team’s situation when the Trojans open next Tuesday against a fellow state-qualifier, Garden Plain.
The game, set for Robert C. Brown Gymnasium, is actually the first round of the Moundridge tournament. Games 2 and 3 versus Moundridge and Lyons, respectively, will follow Thursday and Friday at Moundridge.