Returning coach and players enhance HHS girls’ hopes

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HHSbbGirlsPB241037.jpg

These seniors and letter-winners form the foundation of a Hillsboro High girls? team that aims to improve on its 9-11 record from last season: (from left) Cassie Kroeker, Abi Humber, Kassidi Luthi, Dakota Kaufman, Tiffany Rooker, Jet Skiles and Candace Weinbrenner.

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Dakota Kaufman, shown here against Sterling, was a first-team all-league selection last season as a sophomore. She led the team in scoring and rebounding.

The return of familiar faces has raised expectations that the Hillsboro High School girls? team will surpass last season?s 9-12 record.

Familiarity begins with the head coach. Nathan Hiebert begins his second year at the helm, marking the first time in four seasons that the Trojans will experience continuity at the top.

?It?s a huge benefit when a program can have a coach that?s been around for a while,? Hiebert said.

?This year the girls have a better idea what I want since they?ve already been through one year with me. Those things are nice because it seems like practice can flow a little bit better. We?re not stopping as much to try to explain things.?

Key contributors

In addition to the coach, the Trojans return 60 percent of last year?s scoring and 55 percent of the rebounding?despite the loss of three senior starters.

Providing most of the firepower was Dakota Kaufman, a first-team all-league pick last season as a sophomore. Returning as a 6-foot junior, Kaufman led a relatively inexperienced Trojan squad last season with 13.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

?That?s a huge plus for us,? Hiebert said of Kaufman?s productivity. ?It?s nice to have some experience coming back?which is a lot more than what we even came close to bringing back, offensively and defensively, last year.?

Another key infusion of experience comes from two HHS basketball veterans who did not play last season.

Candace Weinbrenner (5-4), a starting point guard on the 2007 state championship team as a freshman, took a break from the sport last season but is ready to step back into the fray this winter for her junior season, according to Hiebert.

?She?s picking it up quickly from where she left off,? he said. ?It?s nice to have her on the floor. She has a good sense of how to run the point guard position, how to take care of the ball and get the ball to the right people.

?She also brings a great attitude to the team. She?s hard working and positive. It?s going to be a complete benefit all the way around.?

Abi Humber (5-7) missed her junior season last year because of a knee injury. Although this season will be her first full exposure to varsity action, Hiebert expects her to be a contributor.

?She strong, she?s quick, she?s fast,? Hiebert said. ?She?ll be a great defender for us. She?ll be playing at the three spot and possibly some four, depending on our post position.

?She?s more of a slasher (on offense), and looks to attack the basket a lot. She does some nice things there.?

Those two newcomers will complement the contributions of the team?s two varsity veterans from last season, seniors Tiffany Rooker (5-7) and Kassidi Luthi (5-10).

With Weinbrenner gone last season, Rooker was thrust into a new role as the point guard. She averaged nearly three turnovers for every assist, but made significant gains by season?s end.

?Tiffany really learned a lot last year,? Hiebert said. ?She was thrown into a tough situation. She?s going to be a better ball handler this season.?

Luthi, who averaged 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game off the bench, will bolster the Trojans? inside game this winter, according to Hiebert.

?She?s going to play a bigger role this year,? Hiebert said. ?She?s able to finish baskets better than I thought she had last year. She?s strong and does some nice things for us down low.?

Bench depth

The Trojans return two other seniors who may provide spot relief at guard. Cassie (5-5) Kroeker and Jet Skiles (5-6) combined for zero points and three rebounds in limited roles last year.

?They both have great attitudes,? Hiebert said. ?They come to practice and work hard and try to do what we?re asking. They?re probably going to play a few minutes here and there.?

One underclassman who has caught Hiebert?s eye during the preseason is Allie Faul, a 5-5 sophomore who played point guard for the junior varsity last season.

?She?s doing some nice things with our top group in scoring and taking care of the ball,? he said.

Beyond Faul, Hiebert said it?s too early to know if other underclassmen will contribute at the varsity level.

?We?ve got a lot of excitement and energy from the underclassmen, but time will tell who steps up and who doesn?t,? he said. ?Learning a new offense?it just takes them some time to get things figured out.?

Team outlook

When Hiebert combines the individual parts into a single unit, he likes what he sees.

?Our inside game will be strong and our ball-handling is better this year?not just with the addition of Candace. Last year helped Tiffany and our other guards learn how to deal with pressure and to handle the ball a lot better.?

Team chemistry will be key to how much better the Trojans will be in 2008-09, he added.

?There are going to be times when things are really good and there will be times when it?s going to be a struggle,? Hiebert said. ?So it?s going to depend on how the girls come together and encourage each other.?

Hiebert expects his team to compete well in the Mid-Central Activities Associa?tion.

?With the athleticism and skills from some of our top girls, we should be able to be up toward the top of the league,? he said. ?But I can?t predict what?s going to happen because you never know.?

Hiebert identified three key challengers: Wichita Collegiate, who was third in Class 3A last season, 22-4 overall and 11-1 in the league; Haven, the defending league champion at 12-0 and was 18-6 overall; and Marion, 12-11 with essentially a sophomore team.

?Collegiate brings back two quality players. (Ashia Woods) was a freshman and (Kamri Phox) was a sophomore point guard for them.

?Haven had a lot of juniors last year?and they were strong last year already. They?re going to have a lot of seniors out there and they?ll be a tough group to handle.

?Marion brings back almost everybody from that team. You?ve got those three sophomores (Julia Zeiner, Lindsay Hett, Kayley Heerey) from last year who are very athletic. All of them handle the ball very well. Heerey and Hett can shoot the three, but they can also drive.?

Season opener

The Trojans will jump into the fire on Friday when they host Collegiate at Brown Gymna??sium.

?It?s a tough way to start,? Hiebert said. ?It?s one of things where we know a little bit about their personnel and what those players? strengths are?and we expect those players to be better.

?I think it will be a very exciting game. We?ve got the potential this year, if we can keep our heads positive and if we can work through some things.?

The following Tuesday, the Trojans will host Smoky Valley in the first round of pool play in the Cheney Cardinal Classic.

Hillsboro will travel to Cheney on Friday, Dec. 12, for Game 2 in pool play. The tournament concludes Saturday, with matchups determined by the outcome of pool play.

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