Returning one of the top scorers in the league is about all most high school coaches could hope for as a new season begins?but Hillsboro girls? Nathan Hiebert isn?t satisfied with that.
?We continue to look for individuals to step up into more of a scoring and rebounding role to provide better balance,? said Hie?bert, who is 134-58 through nine years as head coach.
Make no mistake, senior guard/forward Alex Ratzlaff (5 feet, 10 inches), has the talent to match or surpass her impressive stats from last season: 19.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and nearly 3 steals per game.
?Alex is our leading scorer, leading rebounder, leading person with steals?she does a lot for our team,? Hiebert said. ?She?s got great athleticism and a lot of natural talent.
?We?re probably going to ask her to do a variety of things,? he added. ?I told her to be ready to play almost every position, depending on the need. She?ll probably handle the ball a little bit more than she did in the past, but we?d like to get some younger girls in that position, just to grow and build there.?
Hiebert believes for the Trojans to improve on last season?s 8-13 record, Ratz?laff?s teammates need to step up. His six other returning letter-winners combined for an average of 12.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per contest.
?Offensively, we?re looking for great shots, not just good shots.? Hiebert said. ?Offensively, we?re trying to get the ball from one side to the other, getting shots inside-out, trying to get multiple girls touching the ball.
?That?s going to benefit (Ratzlaff) because last year she got a lot of attention?and it was really hard at times,? he added. ?This year, that?s one of the things we can really grow in.?
Hiebert?s six returning letter-winners beyond Ratzlaff includes Marah Franz (5-5), who also was a starter.
?She?s extremely smart,? Hiebert said of the senior. ?It?s very nice to have her run our offenses and get us moving early on. I think she?s gotten better with her ballhandling and shooting. That?s going to be a key for us.?
The other five letter-winners contributed significant time as underclassmen.
n Abby Sechrist (5-10 forward, guard) managed 2.8 points and 3.6 points as a freshman.
?It was her first time getting on the court, so I think at the end of the year she started feeling more comfortable, and she is blessed with some length,? Hiebert said.
?She?s put in some time during the summer, and I feel like offensively she scores it better than she did last year at this time. Defen?sively, she moves her feet better. I see good things there.?
Four sophomores who stepped in last season for their first significant taste of varsity action now return as juniors:
n Mesa Merrell (5-8). ?Mesa is really strong and more offensive minded,? Hie?bert said. ?If she can play within our system, she?ll find great opportunities. She can make threes, but she?s also strong to finish inside.?
n Rebecca Kaufman (5-7 forward, guard). ?She has a nice outside shot that we?d really like to utilize to stretch the floor so we can get better opportunities at the basket,? Hiebert said. ?But she?s also deceptive on how well she gets to the basket. She picks her opportunities well and can finish really well.?
n Callie Linnens (5-9 forward). ?Callie is kind of our returning inside force,? Hie?bert said. ?Toward the end of last year she was becoming an aggressive player?getting more rebounds and defensively she did some really nice things for us. And we?d get a few points here and there, mostly layups off rebounds.?
n Brooklyn Wiens (5-5 guard). ?Brooklyn is coming off an ACL injury. She is somewhat still getting used to her knee, but the thing that?s really fun to see is she still has a really good game sense. Offensively, she?ll penetrate to set something up and then get an easy look somewhere else. She also has a nice shot and a really good attitude.?
Hiebert has another potential contributor in newcomer Tas Sanchez (5-7) who, along with her family, moved in from Thailand as a senior.
?She can hit outside shots, but her strong suit is her ability to take the ball to the hole,? Hiebert said. ?She handles it fairly well and is fairly aggressive with that. We?re still trying to teach her how that works within our system?but there are definite opportunities there.?
Three additional players are in the mix, too: juniors Paige Proffitt (5-5) as a backup post player, sophomore Sienna Kaufman (5-8) at point guard, and junior Savannah Unruh (5-6) as a three-point specialist.
?To be honest, we have 11 girls in the mix right now,? Hiebert said. ?At this point, I?ve really been bouncing people around?which is good. Hopefully, it keeps them eager, knowing that they have an opportunity to contribute.?
Last season the Trojans finished in a tie for seventh place in the Central Kansas League with a 5-6 record. Hiebert believes this team can secure a place in the top half of the 12-school league, but he sees the title contenders being Hesston, Sterling and Kingman.
?We?re playing better now than what we did at the beginning last year,? he said. ?We?re bringing back a lot more experience than we did last year. That?s a huge benefit.?
Hillsboro will open the season Friday when the Trojans travel to Nickerson to take on the Panthers, an 0-21 team last year.
?Nickerson was improved at the end of the season, and they might be better this year,? Hiebert said.