North Tahoe basketball preview: Experienced Laker girls poised for state title run
The pieces are in place. A slight tweak here and some extra polishing there and coach Scott Conn is confident he can mold his Laker squad into a legitimate state title contender by season’s end.
“Being able to start five seniors who have all been in the program all four years is quite a luxury for North Tahoe,” Conn said. “Most teams in the league lost a significant amount of seniors. So I’m pleased with what I’m able to put on the floor.”
Last year’s Lakers, competing for the first time as a member of the Northern 2A, bowed out of the postseason in the opening round. It was an ugly loss ” a 52-11 shellacking ” at the hands of No. 1-seeded Pershing County (Lovelock).
This year’s talented group is determined to ensure that history does not repeat itself.
“I feel like that was in the past, and we’re a different team this year,” said senior forward Shannon Stack. “I think this year we have a good chance of beating (Lovelock).”
Senior All-State point guard Kelly Hester agreed, citing the team’s chemistry forged from years of playing together as a primary strength. Besides the team’s overall physical talent, it’s that camaraderie that she believes will get the Lakers over the hump.
“We can definitely go far,” said Hester, adding that she and her teammates have played alongside each other since their middle school days. “I think we can go to State. Lovelock, we’ve got it out for them after what they did to us last year. … That was disappointing, but we all realized that we don’t that to happen again. So we’re working hard and we hope it’s our year.”
Conn said the pressure of the postseason got to his team in that lopsided loss. With that in mind, he put together a challenging nonleague schedule mostly on the road, including two competitive California tournaments in which the Lakers went 0-6.
“I’m trying to turn the team into what I call a bright-lights team. Last year we were not a bright-lights team, so I purposely scheduled a lot of tough away games,” the coach said. “They need to learn how to win away from home.”
Although the Lakers did not defeat any of the Bay Area or Sacramento Valley teams, Conn said they gained priceless experience in the process. More importantly, he said, they showed marked improvement every game.
“At first it was kind of frustrating,” said senior All-State guard Sydney Courcier, referring to the high level of competition. “But now when I look back on it, it was a good experience. We’ve gone up against some hard teams this year and done well. I think every game we’re improving.”
More than anything, Conn hopes to toughen up the Lakers so they can to bang with the Northern 2A’s top programs, all of which employ a rough style of play.
“I’m trying to modify us so we can compete with the more physical teams in our league. We certainly have the tools, but we need to get the mindset that nobody can push us around,” he said, singling out Lovelock, Battle Mountain and Mineral County (Hawthorne) as the league’s most physical teams.
So far Conn is pleased with North Tahoe’s “glimpses” of toughness in the early going.
“They’re stepping up to the plate and taking on the challenge,” Conn said. “What we need to work on this year is mental and emotional aspects of the game. But the girls are taking it on, and I can see improvement every game.”
The first test comes in the Lakers’ league opener on Jan. 2 when Lovelock comes to town.
“It’s going to be an extremely tough, hard-fought contest,” Conn said. “Lovelock always has a good team. They play extremely disciplined basketball ” high pressure. That first game will tell us a lot about where we are this year.”
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