The blessing: Hillsboro girls’ basketball coach Nathan Hiebert has seven players with significant varsity experience returning from last year’s 11-11 team.
The challenge: Filling the void created by the loss of seniors Alex Ratzlaff and Tassanee Sanchez, who combined to average 27.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, four assists and 4.6 steals per game.
“When you lose your top two scorers, that only means you’ll have two new top scorers the next year,” Hiebert said. “It’s not like we can’t score, it’s just that different people will score.”
Team power rather than star power will be the key to success this season.
“We’ve been talking a lot about being a team,” he said. “We’re going to have to really function well. I foresee that we’ll have quite a few different girls being our potential leading scorer in different games.
“The girls have abilities and areas they’re strong in,” Hiebert added. “Sometimes our post girls will get more points inside, and in some games we’ll have some guards who will score a little more from the outside.”
“Most of the girls are going to have to play multiple positions. We’ve got a fairly tall team, so the girls can play a variety of different positions.”
Hiebert’s two returning starters, junior Abby Sechrist (5-feet-11), who received all-league honorable mention last season, and senior Callie Linnens (5-9) have sufficient height and experience to make an impact in the paint.
“Abby will probably play the three, four and five positions, depending on where we need her,” Hiebert said. “She’s most comfortable at the four position. That’s what she played last year.”
Sechrist, who led the team with 28 blocked shots, has been working on her shooting and ball-handling during the off-season.
“Her height is really good—at the end of last year she was really a great defensive presence for us,” he said. “She did a nice job not getting into a lot of foul trouble last year. Hopefully, she can alter shots, get in passing lanes and use those things to help with defensive pressure.
“Offensively, she goes hard and runs well in transition, so hopefully we can utilize some of that,” Hiebert said.
Sechrist averaged 4.6 points per game a year ago, and Linnens 4.7 points.
“This will be (Linnens’) third year of varsity,” Hiebert said. “She probably has more experience than any girl we have on the court. She has a really good head on her shoulders, she understands the game really well.”
Hiebert’s five remaining veterans will vacillate between guard and forward.
Hiebert said senior Mesa Merrell (5-8) showed flashes of offensive spark a year ago.
“She can light it up when she’s rolling,” he said. “She’s put in a lot of time in her skill work offensively. We’ll need her to attack the basket. That will give opportunities for her to get baskets, but if she can take full advantage of it, it will open things up for other girls on the floor.”
Hiebert is counting on junior Sienna Kaufman (5-8) to penetrate the lane as well.
“You’ve got to have people who attack the basket—not just with the pass, not just getting inside, but we also need people who can take it off the dribble,” he said, “Those two are the best ones off the dribble.
“Sienna doesn’t shy away from contact, and that’s fantastic,” he added. “It seems like girls that can take contact can also dish it out a little bit. She’s not afraid of that.”
Senior Rebecca Kaufman (5-7) will see most of her time at guard.
“She’s reliable, she’s got a nice little jump shot—she’s where she needs to be,” Hiebert said. “She’s not going to be a very flashy player, but she will take it to the basket.
“She’ll probably play point guard for us at times, but she’ll play a variety of spots,” he said. “We need her to be an outside threat and attacking the basket in order to help our team. I know she’s capable of that.”
Paige Proffitt (5-5) will play forward and post this year.
“She and Callie split time at the (post) last year,” Hiebert said. “She’s very physical in the post— and has to be because she’s a little undersized. She’ll have to attack the basket in different ways.”
Hiebert’s fifth senior, Savannah Unruh (5-3), will be asked to stretch the court this year with her long-range shooting.
“She’s got a great shot,” he said. “My job is to convince her that she’s a great shooter. Right now we’re trying to build her confidence. Her arm mechanics are really good, she just needs to trust in those repetitions she’s had over the years.”
Unruh could see time at point guard behind the Kaufman cousins.
Hiebert will complete his playing rotation with the contributions of Trinity Malm (5-7), who saw limited varsity action a year ago.
“Trinity’s a worker,” Hiebert said. “We’ve had some people who just have a nose for the ball, especially rebounding—she gets her hands on the ball a lot. She has a really good, never-stop mentality.
“She’ll get some really good playing time this year because I believe we’ll need her in there for rebounding and just her work ethic,” he added. “She’ll bring a good spark to our offense and defense.”
Hiebert likes his team’s height and experience, and feels the girls have sufficient skills. But achieving a winning season will require one more thing.
“We’re going to have to work well as a team,” he said. “I believe we’re going to have different girls being leading scorers—and our team has to be excited about that. If we ever have issues with that, we’re probably going to struggle.”
He said when opponents can focus on one or two people, and not have to worry about anyone else, it’s easier to defend against it.
“But if we can get multiple people to step up and be excited about that, we have the potential to be competitive in every game,” he said.
The Trojans will open the season with a run of four games over eight days.
Hillsboro will begin Dec. 1 by hosting Sterling at Brown Gymnasium with a 6 p.m. start. The Black Bears are the defending Central Kansas League champions and placed fourth at the Class 3A state tournament, but are now affiliated with the Heart of America.
The following Tuesday, Hillsboro will open play at the Moundridge Pre-Season Tournament with a 4 p.m. start against Lyons. On Thursday, the Trojans will play Inman at 4 p.m., and will finish Friday against Moundridge at 7 p.m.