ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ANDREW OTTOSON
Impact players for the 2006-07 Peabody-Burns team are: (from left) junior Tabitha O’Neal, junior Jessica Gillet, senior Elaina Newell, senior Jessi Hilliard, senior Racquel Castillo and junior Becky Morris.
Four of those set to enter to the Peabody-Burns girls’ basketball team’s starting lineup when the season tips off will return to the positions they held last year.
No single returning player is more important to the Warriors chances than Jessi Hilliard, who has been selected to the all-Heart of America league team as well as an honorable mention all-state player for two consecutive years.
“Jessi should show the team guidance and stability and provide the necessary leadership,” coach Darren Schroeder said.
Not all of her contributions to the team will be intangible. She averaged 18.2 points per game last year, 4.1 better than she did in her sophomore campaign.
Hilliard, a 5-foot, 6-inch senior, also nearly doubled her rebounding production from 4.4 per game in 2004-05, to 8.1 last winter.
But even if Hilliard brings her game to an even higher level, the team as a whole will have to be more efficient around her if PBHS is going to improve on a 4-17 finish.
Elaina Newell, also a 5-6 senior, will give the Warriors a second scoring threat.
“(Newell) will add a strong perimeter game. Hilliard and Newell are going to have to be the cornerstones for the team,” Schroeder said.
Last year, Newell improved her output from 6.4 points and 2.1 rebounds to 8.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.
Jessica Gillet and Tabitha O’Neal are a pair of 5-7 juniors who will be tasked with playing the forward positions.
Schroeder said he hopes “Jessica and our other posts will be able to stretch the other teams posts out from the basket with some good 12′-15′ range shooting…that could help us negate some of the height disadvantage we will have this season.”
Becky Morris, a 5’6 junior, is the team’s early favorite to start at point guard.
“Guard play will be the strength of our team,” Schroeder said. “We would like to increase tempo and stretch the game to full-court as much as possible.”
If a system designed around playing a smaller style of basketball can help turn lack of size into an advantage, this PBHS girls’ squad has a year of know-how under its collective belt.
“Playing without height should not be an adjustment this season due to playing the same style last year,” Schroeder said. “A year of experience and maturity should allow us to apply more pressure on defense and to speed things up on offense.”
Beyond using their speed to maximize the advantages of having one of the smaller lineups in the HOA, the team will have to get better on the defensive end of the floor than they did last year.
“We are definitely going to have to be able to guard and rebound, limit turnovers and play unselfishly,” Schroeder said.
In addition to Hilliard, Newell, Gillet, O’Neal and Morris, three more letterwinners will give Schroeder options off of the bench: 5-3 senior Racquel Castillo, 5-7 sophomore Stephanie Rempel and 5-2 sophomore Bayleigh Clark.
“I believe that as the season progresses, the players will become comfortable in their roles and the team will improve,” Schroeder said.
Finding a zone of comfort with their roles might just help the PBHS girls improve on last year’s 1-10 mark in league play.