For the fourth time in four years, the Marion High School girls? basketball team returns essentially the same group of core players as powered the previous season.
With four-year starters Julia Zeiner, Kayley Heerey and Lindsay Hett on the roster, Marion has improved from 2-19 to 12-11 to 12-8 over three seasons. The improvement has been recognized by coaches Mid-Central Activities Association coaches via all-league honors: Zeiner (first team), Heerey (second team) and Hett (second team).
But becoming a known quantity is not necessarily an advantage in the competitive MCAA.
?We need to get more of our players involved in the scoring, and we need to play better defense, especially man-to-man,? coach Randy Savage said.
Translation: While the three-headed offense and the high-pressure defense were both potent last year?and will still be potent this year?the Warriors were too predictable at both ends of the floor.
In another league or ahead of another season, predictability might be called consistency. But, organically, expectations have grown along with Marion?s success.
The Warriors have recorded eight league wins and have placed fourth in the MCAA in back-to-back years; the thought that a sub-state championship might be reachable germinated with post-season victories over Remington and Hillsboro in March 2008. In the sub-state opener in March 2009, Halstead eliminated Marion?an abrupt ending to a solid season.
?The difference (between 2008 and 2009) was that we lost five 5-point games last year?one shot, one defensive possession, maybe one foul difference…. The year before, we won our close games,? Savage said.
Given the level of competition the Warriors will see in the MCAA, Savage thinks qualifying for a place at sub-state ought not be taken for granted?but he also thinks Marion is capable of cracking the state tournament with ?the right draw and the ball bouncing our way a couple of times.?
For the past two seasons, the Warriors have relied heavily on an aggressive pressing defense to create easy offense. While the defense will be no less aggressive this year, Savage noted two factors that should improve Marion?s ability to execute half-court offense: superior athleticism in the paint and improved perimeter shooting.
The Warriors derive their press-first identity from the athleticism of Zeiner, Heerey and Hett. Hett and Heerey are guards; Zeiner is a forward.
Whitney Gordon will start at the forward position opposite Zeiner.
?Whitney has been playing a lot of basketball and we?re counting on her helping us out,? Savage said.
As with a season ago, Bridget Lundy will contribute as guard.
?She?s been working hard at improving her defense and we?ll be looking for her to knock down some shots,? Savage said.
Savage said he would like to see Kristen Steinborn make her mark as an outside shooter.
?She?s got the capability,? he said. ?I?ve told her she has the best-looking shot on the team, but she doesn?t believe me yet. I hope she will soon?we?re going to need her to take about six or eight shots per night.?
Savage said Danae Edwards has been limited by injury, but hopes to have her returning to form after the Christmas break.
?She?s one to get after it on defense?she loves doing it, and we need her to do just that,? Savage said.
He also indicated four juniors will ?provide some help? this year: Emily Hett, Donna Cady, Sarah Guttersloh and Jordan Harper.
Savage said he hopes Gordon, Lundy and Steinborn will post a combined average around 20 points per game?a total he said would allow the team to reach 60 on a regular basis.
?If we do that, I think we can beat anybody we?ll play,? he said.
Marion?s season opener is set for 6:30 p.m. Monday versus Eureka in the Warriors? home tournament.