Building off of last season’s 8–16 record and advancement to the state tournament for the first time in five years, the girls basketball team relies on strong leadership, underclassman potential, and increased fitness to keep improving in the upcoming season.
“This year, it’s all about proving that last year wasn’t a fluke and that we can do it again,” said Julia Ryan ’16, a shooting guard. “We did lose a couple of seniors, but we [also] have some strong underclassman and a good starting vibe.”
The loss of five top-scoring seniors from the class of 2015 has left the program with several gaps to fill on the court. For Head Coach Dan Van Hise, this will not only be an obstacle to overcome, but a chance to see leadership from upper and underclassmen alike.
“We have some freshmen and sophomores who [are working] to make a quick transition to help us out at the varsity level,” Van Hise said. “[The loss of seniors] is definitely an opportunity for other girls to step up.”
Stepping up as varsity co-captains this year are Adria Backus ’16, Crystal Wang ’16, and Zoe Tesone ’17.
“It’s still important to be someone that [younger players] can look up to and ask questions and not feel nervous around. The coaches can’t always provide the same kind of support that a player can,” Ryan said of the duties of being a senior leader.
According to Van Hise, the primary responsibility of the captains and leaders of the team is to act as the extensions of coaches on the court.
“The captains need to always be that constant reinforcement, that constant ‘look at me, look at how I’m playing, let me kind of set the tone’,” Van Hise said. “A lot of it is encouragement and positivity.”
For Tesone, this bond between players and focus on positive attitude will be essential to the success of the team this year.
“I think we have a great group of girls, and the chemistry is good so far,” Tesone said. “I just want to keep the energy up in practices … [You have to] make everyone want to be there and want to work harder.”
In terms of working harder, the team plans to intensify workouts to promote fitness and ability. Van Hise pointed to an increased emphasis on fitness as the reason for the team’s improvement from a 3–16 record to a 4–10 record in 2012–2013 and 2013–2014, respectively. The team has already seen results as in a preseason scrimmage held at PHS on December 15th, the Little Tigers beat Burlington High School 30–8. Early in the winter, the team saw Burlington as a team that would be a challenge to beat.
“One of the ways you can make up for [being at a disadvantage skill-wise] is just being faster than the other team,” Van Hise said of the motivation behind this idea.
Van Hise has been advocating this approach of intense physical training since his first year coaching the Little Tigers in 2013.
“As much as we hate it, [the increased fitness] will probably help,” Tesone said. “The coaches want us to be able to stay in the game [all the way] through the fourth quarter.”
While the team works to improve physically, it will also strive to become stronger mentally, especially with the prospect of facing harder competition throughout the season. The team expects challenges against rivals Allentown High School, and West Windsor-Plainsboro North High School.
“It’s tough going into a game thinking, ‘Wow, this team is better than us’,” Ryan said. “But it’s sort of a mentality thing that you need to still play your hardest and not give up.”
“[It’s all about] maximizing the opportunities,” Van Hise said. “That’s probably going to end up being our little theme for the year. With [a new group of girls], there is so much opportunity out there. If we can do that … [we can get] back to where we were last year.”
Last year the team reached the first round of the state tournament, and it hopes to advance even further in 2016. A run into the postseason would make for a perfect ending for this years seniors.
“It’s my last season, and I’m just ready to go all out,” Wang said. “Hopefully we get another [positive] record this year.”