Building a new basketball program from scratch is a difficult task for any team to take on, and the young Thunder Mountain girls' basketball program has experienced plenty of growing pains.
But despite going winless in the team's inaugural season, Falcons coach Tanya Nizich said she feels good about the impact last year had on her returning players.
"I hear them talking about it in practices, saying, 'If they think they're going to do that to us this year again, they're wrong,'" she said. "Just hearing that out of them makes me want to work harder with them. Everything is just more positive with every day."
And that confidence isn't felt by Nizich alone. Sophomore wing Jonelle Staveland said this group of girls believes in itself.
"Last year we had problems with hustling down the court, but we have a lot of fast girls this year," she said. "Also, most of the girls out here are great leaders that push each other."
Staveland also said the increased numbers of girls on the team will help significantly with depth during the games.
"We're going to push ourselves to have a much better season this year and progress a lot more. And with all the subs we'll definitely have more energy on the floor."
Now Nizich hopes this positive energy translates to the court during the team's opening weekend of games against Sitka. And one of the coaches' and players' main concerns is dealing with the full-court press, something teams did to Thunder Mountain early and often last year.
"As far as the first set of games coming up, we've talked a little about what they did to us last year. We know that teams are going to come right off the bat with the press, and we talked about how to break those," Nizich said. "We're plugging so much information into their minds right now and it'll be fun to see all of them carry it over to the first set of games.
"With all the information we've thrown at them in 10 days of practice, just piecing it together for that first round of games is going to be great to see."
But with the season opening in Sitka just one day from now, Nizich said she is still feeling out her lineup. And though it isn't quite yet set, she said she has a pretty good idea of who her leaders will be. She said while taking into account skill and understanding of the game is important, she wants to see who works the hardest in practice to earn a spot.
"We still have one more day of practice and anything can change," she said.
While definitive positions have yet to be decided, Nizich knows where she will allocate different responsibilities.
First-year basketball player Katie Tarver, Michaela Demmert and Eyerus Tingley will be the primary ball handlers for the Falcons, while Staveland will play an important role on the wing.
"I think (Staveland has) come a really long way from last season to right now at the start of the season. Her basketaball I.Q. and knowledge of the game - she just has it," Nizich said. "And it comes pretty naturally to her. I'm excited to see if she can take it to another level."
In the post will be the lone senior Janie White, and joining her will be returning post presence Shale Kibby, Kinsey Marshall and freshman Makayla Pierce. Nizich said the team expects a significant contribution from the newcomer Pierce this season.
The Falcons hit the road for their season-opening games beginning Friday in Sitka.
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