Having experienced a taste of state success last season by placing third at the Class 3A tournament, the Hillsboro girls’ basketball team is hungry for the whole enchilada this season.
With the team returning all but one starter, seven letter-winners and better than 75 percent of its scoring and rebounding from last year’s 21-5 squad, targeting the top prize is more than preseason wishful thinking.
“These girls want to win the state tournament,” said coach Nathan Hiebert, starting his fifth year at the Trojan helm with a 62-33 record. “That’s our objective. They truly believe it’s a possibility and they understand what they have to put into it.”
Talented experience is a key ingredient. Heading the Trojan depth chart are senior Tena Loewen (5 feet, 10 inches) and sophomore Addie Lackey (5-8), who led the team in both scoring and rebounding last season.
Loewen, averaging 10.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, was a first-team Central Kansas League pick while Lackey, at 9.2 and 3.7, earned honorable mention.
“Tena works extremely hard and leads by example,” Hiebert said. “Offensively, she’s worked on her skills. Most of her scoring last year was off her slashing and getting rebounds. But she definitely has the ability to hit some pull-up jump shots.
“She could do some of that last year, but she’s such an unselfish player that she’d rather pass around and get a different shot. Hopefully, we’ll see some of the things from her that can open things up a little bit.”
New to the district a year ago, Lackey has settled into the school environment as well as the team system, Hiebert said.
“I can see an improvement from last year to this year in her excitement and eagerness to buy into what we want, understanding what we want—and to just be excited about playing.
“She’s gifted offensively,” he added. “She can take it inside and finish with some contact, and she can hit the outside shot. She can do a lot of the stuff we need to be successful.”
Helping on the Trojan front line will be Krista Reimer, a 5-9 senior who contributed 4.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in her first season as a starter.
“She was in the weight room a lot this summer, and I think some added quickness and agility has helped her movement,” Hiebert said. “She had some great games for us last year and was the leading scorer at least once or twice. I think she’s going to have some good opportunities this year.”
Hillsboro’s fourth returning starter is senior Callie Serene, who stepped in as shooting guard last season as a three-point specialist. She shot 31 percent (28-91) from behind the arc on the way to averaging 5.2 points per game.
This year Serene brings some added height at 5-7.
“Callie can hit the outside shot,” Hiebert said. “She’s grown quite a bit, so defensively she’s getting a lot tougher. Her size is gong to frustrate some people more. It’s just a learning thing for her.”
Senior forward Courtney Weber (5-7) has some experience as a starter. She averaged 2.7 points and 2.2 rebounds while filling a variety of roles.
“She came on strong at the end (of last season) and was a really great rebounder for us,” Hiebert said. “She does a great job defensively and is just a real smart player.”
Void at point guard
With graduation Hiebert lost height coming off the bench in twin 6-footers Elise and Emma Heyen. But the biggest loss he faces is finding someone who will fill the void created by the departure of point guard Allie Faul, who averaged 7.8 points and 2.1 assists as a senior.
“It’s always a concern when you lose the point-guard position—a lot of stuff is initiated offensively and defensively from there,” he said. “We have a lot of potential in some of the girls, but potential doesn’t always turn into results.”
Hiebert’s top candidates are letter-winners Stephanie Sanders, a 5-6 senior, and Maci Schlehuber, a 5-7 junior, as well as sophomore Danae Bina, who was slowed by injuries last year.
“All of them bring different aspects to the game,” Hiebert said. “Stephanie probably brings more experience than a lot of the other girls. She can hit the outside shot and she’s just a pretty hard-nosed kid. She’s not going be pushed around.
“Maci loves the game of basketball and has played quite a bit. Offensively, she can hit the outside shot and is pretty aggressive about trying to score.
“Danae got some minutes early in the season before she got hurt. She is really strong defensively. She can do some things offensively, too, but defensively she does some really good things.”
Hiebert has been rotating the trio at both the No. 1 and 2 guard positions during the preseason.
“I always feel if you’re a point guard, I’d like you to be able to play another position as well,” he said.
Hiebert has other athletes who can bring the ball up the court, too, which will make it easier for whomever steps in at the point.
“We’re pretty athletic,” he said. “I’d like to be able to get up and down the court a little bit and get some easy buckets and some early offense.”
Providing additional depth for spot relief at various positions are senior Amy Bartel (5-8), junior Erin Winter (5-7) and sophomores Maddi Duerksen (5-5) and Christina Morris (5-7).
“We have a lot of people with experience, so if they want playing time they’re going to have to earn that,” Hiebert said. “That really helps make my job easier because the girls are having to compete for it.”
Hiebert expects his squad to be in the thick of this year’s CKL title chase, with the strongest competition coming from three 4A foes: Hesston, Pratt and defending champion Haven.
“Hesston lost two seniors, so they bring back a core group of girls,” he said. “The eighth-grade group that’s coming in is a very, very talented group. It’s not a reload. They’re bringing back a lot and they’re adding a lot to it.
“Pratt brings a lot of size, but they lost their point guard. Hopefully, that’s an area where we can frustrate them. They’re athletic, they cover a lot of ground and they play a lot of good defense, so they’ll be tough.
“Haven has a tradition of being a good basketball program.”
Adding fuel to Hillsboro’s post-season hopes is the loss of defending 3A champion Wichita Collegiate to Class 4A and runner-up Jefferson County to Class 2A. But Hiebert said the road to a 3A title will have plenty of hurdles to overcome.
“We’re going to be seeing some really good basketball teams, and we’re going to have to be prepared to compete at all levels,” he said.
Having such a depth of varsity experience has given the Trojans a leg up during the preseason.
“It’s nice that this year we’ve been able to do some things already the first week of practice that might take two or three days to get through,” Hiebert said. “But now they’re remembering things, they’re going through it, and it doesn’t take as much time to explain it.
“That’s the benefit of establishing a program,” he added. “Now in my fifth year, they know and understand what’s expected. They buy into that and come prepared rather than me always having to convince them to do what I’m asking.”
Hillsboro opens its season Dec. 6 at Lyons, where they will take on the Lions at 6 p.m. in the first round of the Moundridge preseason tournament.
The next two rounds will be played at Moundridge. HHS will take on Garden Plain at 4 p.m. Thursday and Moundridge at 7 p.m. Friday.