ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
A mix of what’s new and what’s coming back has fans of Hillsboro High School girls’ basketball looking toward the upcoming season with considerable interest.
What’s new-for the first time in 21 years-is the head coach. Melissa Stenfors steps into the role filled for more than two decades by Becky Carlson, who relocated closer to family this summer with a resume that included 333 wins and 10 trips to state while at HHS.
Being a head coach is new for Stenfors after compiling 10 years of experience as an assistant coach at the high school and college levels.
From her perspective, the transition to top banana is going well-thanks in no small part to the attitude of her players.
“The girls are working super hard,” Stenfors said. “They’ve been extremely coachable. This is a dream transition. As a new coach coming in, I can’t praise them enough for being open and receptive to anything we ask.
“My assistant coaches are doing a great job, too. There’s a lot of energy in practice, and we hope to continue that. All that combined just makes for a good team atmosphere.”
Helping Stenfors this winter are Dennis Boldt and Sandy Arnold-neither of whom were part of the girls’ staff last season.
Experienced core players
Meanwhile, what’s coming back for the Trojans is a nucleus of five players who saw significant varsity action on last season’s 15-8 squad.
Heading the list are all-league selections JuliAnne Chisholm and Hannah Marsh. Both girls became varsity starters as freshman and led the team in scoring last season as sophomores.
Chisholm, a 5-foot-9 forward, was a unanimous first-team pick by Mid-Central Activities Association coaches. In addition to scoring a team-high 12.7 points per game, she led the team in per-game field-goal shooting (53.8 percent), rebounding (7.3), steals (3.1) and shot blocks (1.9) and was third in assists (1.7).
Marsh, a second-team pick, averaged 10.9 points per game while shooting 40.9 percent from the floor. From the guard position, Marsh nailed a team-high 37 3-pointers in 105 attempts (35.2 percent) and made nearly 71 percent of her free throws.
The 5-6 speedster also contributed an average of 3.07 steals, a team-high 3.1 assists and 2.7 rebounds, but committed a team-high 3.9 turnovers per game.
Also returning with significant varsity experience are:
- Tina Frick, a 6-1 junior who came off the bench to give the Trojans solid production at the post position. Frick averaged 1.7 points and 1.3 rebounds a game. She shot 48.5 percent from the field and blocked nine shots.
- Laura Skiles, a 5-9 senior who played in all but one game a year ago. She averaged 0.9 points, 1.0 rebounds and 0.5 assists.
- Audrey Weinbrenner, a 5-5 sophomore guard who came in for brief but effective relief stints in 19 games as a freshman.
Megan Peachey, who started at guard as a sophomore last season, decided not to play this winter.
Stenfors said as a first-year coach, she has the luxury of not having to consider last season’s statistics as she molds her team.
“I don’t take any of that into consideration,” she said. “I just base decisions on what my coaching staff and I see every day-who’s working hard and has a good attitude, on top of the skills.
“Each day it’s becoming a little clearer who is going to be playing where.”
Up-tempo team play
At the heart of Stenfors’s coaching philosophy is a commitment to team play.
“The girls are accepting that it’s about the team,” she said. “We don’t have any one person we’re going to for anything. I’ve not seen anything thus far that looks like they’re trying to please one or two person on the team. “
Stenfors expects her team to be doing a lot of those things at full speed.
“We’re emphasizing getting a good box-out on the rebound so we can get that ball down the floor as quickly as possible,” she said. “We’re emphasizing a deep outlet pass so that we’re not coming right up to the rebounder and handing off. We’re getting a jump start on it and getting down the floor.
“What starts all of that is the defense,” she added. “So we’re going to emphasize pressure defense. We’ve been working a lot on man (defense) right now-not that I won’t play a zone just to throw teams off balance once in a while.
“We’re trying to be intense and in the right place,” she added. “That leads to steals and to fast breaks. We want to fast break. We want to get as many easy layups as we can.”
Because of the game pace she desires, Stenfors knows one challenge will be keeping fresh legs on the floor.
“We’re going to have to have some depth-and I think we’re going to have enough,” she said. “But we’re not going to rely just on depth, we’re going to condition everyone to be ready to go.”
Stepping into a new situation as a head coach has its challenges.
“When you don’t know the team, and when you don’t know the teams you’re going up against, it feels like the blind leading the blind sometimes,” Stenfors admitted.
“So, it’s kind of experimental,” she added. “I hate to do that to the girls, but I want us to be successful. I also know that experimental is OK because I want to see if we can get the things out that don’t work, and put things in that do work, by February. That’s the time I want to be ready.
From what she’s heard from others, Stenfors expects Hesston and Wichita Collegiate to have strong teams again this season in the MCAA. Beyond that, she’ll take the challenges as they come.
“I really think in the beginning portion of the season, we’re going to be focusing on us,” she said. “Then we’ll start to add what we need to do, scouting-wise.”
Stenfors and her Trojans will open the season at the Dickinson County Classic, a six-team tournament hosted by Chapman and Abilene high schools.
In the first of three games, Hillsboro will square off against Abilene on Tuesday night, Dec. 6, at Abilene.