Warrior girls raise fan expectations with junior leadership

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MHSgirlsPB250457.jpg

Marion High School basketball coach Randy Savage returns the core of last year?s sub-state runner-up team: back row (from left) juniors Julia Zeiner, Lindsay Hett, Kristen Steinborn, Kayley Heerey; front row, sophomore Bridget Lundy, senior Amanda Richmond.

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Lindsay Hett drives past her Hillsboro defender during a game last season.

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Kayley Heerey defends against the downcourt pass during a game last season. She and teammate Lindsay Hett received honorable mention all-league recognition by MCAA coaches.

With a core of the team that dismantled Remington at sub-state last year returning, expectations are high for the Marion High School girls? basketball team to ascend as the season progresses.

?Everybody is back except Kimber Hardey and Lauren Helmer,? coach Randy Savage said. ?We?ve got one senior, Amanda Richmond.?

Led by core juniors Kayley Heerey, Lindsay Hett and Julia Zeiner, the Warriors posted a 12-11 overall record, placed fourth in the Mid-Central Activities Association and torched Remington to reach the sub-state title game against Southeast of Saline last year.

Savage said that his team has grown in the off-season.

?We?ve obviously progressed after starting with scratch last year, as far as offenses and defenses are concerned,? he said.

?Other than just being a little taller and a little stronger and having a little more time spent with weights and in the gym shooting, they are the same girls as last year,? he added. ?But we expect a little more from them. They?re a little more mentally mature?the difference between sophomores and juniors, that?s what a few of them of have said?with a different frame of mind.?

Heerey will again play at nearly every position, and Zeiner will continue to be the primary option on the low block. Hett will again run the point, but not as exclusively as she did last season.

?We?ve got to have Bridget (Lundy) and Kayley helping her out with that,? Savage said. ?We can?t have it be like last year, where she?d call for a break and we?d have to call a timeout to get her a rest.

?There was one time where she said she needed a rest and I said, ?I can?t.

?She is a heck of a productive player,? he added. ?Look at sub-state last year, or at the Hillsboro game. She went off in the first half, just tearing it up. In the second half, you could just tell her legs were going.?

At times, Heerey and Zeiner displayed a similar knack for taking over a game. It is mildly ironic, then, that if the Warriors show the kind of improvement Savage is looking for, his top players? statistical output will decline slightly.

?I told (Heerey, Hett and Zeiner) that compared to last year, if things go the way they need to this year, their averages ought to go down,? he said.

But he also expects the team?s scoring output to rise.

?We?ve got others who can score, and their production should go up,? he said. ?We have the personnel this year where, we?re hoping to be able to run up and down the court like a pack of wolves for six to eight minutes at a time.?

He said that for his team to compete with the top teams in the MCAA, a voracious style of defense geared around forcing turnovers is not optional.

?If you ever had the team to press with, this has got to be it,? he said. ?I think if I didn?t try to press, we?d have a mutiny. We don?t have a choice?it?s the way we?ve got to play.

?The downside of it is that there are a lot of teams in the MCAA that can handle the press, as they proved so well last year.?

But if the Warriors can master the art of turning defense into offense, the results could pose problems for the other teams in the league.

?Even though we?re taller than we were last year, we?re still not tall,? he said. ?I?d like to see us score around 60 per game, with maybe 55 on the low end, and 65 to make me happier.?

The Warriors? ability to run will be a major part of their success on offense, but part of meeting Savage?s points-per-game goal will come from a more efficient offense.

?We need to get up and down the court without turning the ball over a lot,? he said. ?If we turn it over a lot, we won?t get to 60 very often.?

In practice, Savage has already seen some progress in understanding the offense and how to limit turnovers.

?If you saw the early games in the season last year, you?d see players stop and think, ?OK, I threw the ball here, so where do I go now??? he said.

In addition to understanding the system better, Savage said he sees his players making better decisions with the ball.

?This year, instead of stopping and thinking, it?s more reflexive,? he said.

?They?ll sneak a quick peek to see if where they want to go with the ball is the right way to go with it, whereas last year they?d just get rid of it as fast as possible.?

This year Savage hopes to see his team forcing others into poor decisions.

?We?re trying to get the girls to understand with the press, that it?s OK if the other team scores a couple times out of 10?as long as we get a couple of steals or make them throw it away a couple of times,? he said. ?If the rest is just a draw, we still gain two possessions, and we?ve sped the game up to a level that other teams probably won?t like.?

The maturation process and the experience gained last year have opened the door for Marion to expand its half-court offense as well.

?We had three offenses we ran last year, and we?ll be more efficient with those,? Savage said. ?We?ll have our base motion offense that we added a few plays to after Christmas last year, and we?ll add a few more this year.

?We were still trying to get our base motion offense running right in late January last year,? he added. ?We?re ahead of the game this year.?

Along with the high level of play Zeiner, Hett and Heerey bring to the table, the Warriors will look for increased production from Richmond, Lundy and Kristen Steinborn.

?They?re a little more grown up, a little more comfortable,? Savage said. ?We?re going to need a little more point production, more minutes and more defense from them, and the tools are there to do it.?

Savage declined to say who would fill the six other roster slots.

?We handed out a half-dozen varsity uniforms, but that?s only because I had to get pictures taken for the Marion Classic,? he said.

?I told the rest of the girls, there?s six or eight of you that are capable of filling the rest of the uniforms, and the truth of the matter is, nobody has a varsity uniform set aside for the whole year,? he said.

?I?ve learned that it?s a whole lot better to have five players on the floor who will work hard than it is to have five better players who only play at half-speed, and the girls know that,? he added.

Season outlook

Along with Haven, Wichita Colle?giate, and Hesston, Savage expects Hillsboro and Marion to compete well in the Mid-Central.

?The cool thing about this league?and it?s kind of a drag, too?is that even if you have a really good team, you probably can?t go through this league with only one loss or two losses,? he said.

?The upside is, you can have four, five, six losses when you go to sub-state, and you?ll still be one of the better teams there.?

He also noted that other teams continually apply pressure from the bottom.

?Look at a team like Lyons, where they started to be a real pain in the rear at the end of the year?all freshmen playing man-to-man everywhere all the time?and they?ve got everybody back,? he said.

?If you can finish fourth in this league, you?ve really done something,? he said. ?But I?ve never played anything anywhere that I didn?t plan on winning.?

Marion?s season opens with the first preseason tournament the Warriors have hosted. The first Marion Classic begins at 6:30 p.m. Monday against Peabody-Burns.

The winner will play the winner of Belle Plaine and Eureka at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 11, with third-place to be decided at 3 p.m. Dec. 13 and the championship to follow at 6:30 p.m.

Berean Academy, Leon Bluestem, Oxford and Remington are also participating.

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