Run. Trap. Run. Steal. Run. Layup. Run.
Seventh-year head Juneau-Douglas High School girls' basketball coach Lesslie Knight can seem more like she's herding wild animals than orchestrating a game plan sometimes.
Don't expect to see any winded players or neck-craning fans complaining anytime soon, though - excitement in the stands is just the bonus to last season's 20-5 record and fourth-place finish at the 4A State Championships on the court.
Knight has found a way to channel the deep pool of talent funneling out of Juneau's basketball-crazed middle schools during her tenure, and she's doing it without crossing her fingers for late growth spurts. She simply lets those bouncy, young, sugar-fueled legs do what they do best - run.
Last season, the Crimson Bears placed their lone senior and top scorer, Nicole Fenumiai, at the center of a whirlwind 10-girl rotation of freshmen and sophomores. The team's exhausting, press-heavy style helped them stampede to that sparkling record and finish at state.
This season, Fenumiai is shooting her way through college in Washington's Yakima Valley. The experienced and improved youngsters remain, however, and Knight is all too happy to say that all 10 should be ready for heavy playing time.
"I've had all five of these juniors since they were freshmen, and all 10 of these girls went through middle school playing with or against each other," Knight said. "They've really pushed each other and still push each other to be the players they are."
That sort of positive peer pressure has continued, with the five juniors - Mahlete Tingley, Brittany Fenumiai, Kristen Dierck, Emily Johnson and Annette Highley - leading the team's rigorous preseason workout schedule since October. The team has been working hard lifting weights as well as meeting for the usual practice times.
"They're incredibly committed as a unit, and that really helps them play well as a team," Knight said. "We need to get some of our height in better condition for our press, but their work in the off-season really makes my job very easy."
It's not only the group's conditioning that makes Knight's job easier than most in the season's early practices. While most coaches are scrambling to teach the basics of their offenses and defenses in the mandatory 10 practices prior to opening games, Knight's entire team has already been through her "boot camp" a few times.
"It certainly helped us that we didn't have to start from scratch. We have a pretty quick start-up with this group," she added.
The Bears actually began their season a week ago, when they traveled to Oregon for what was supposed to be a three-game road trip against out-of-state opponents. The trip's final game was canceled due to heavy snows that closed nearby highways, but the Juneau-Douglas squad was still able to squeeze in a 52-20 thumping of Ridgefield High School from Vancouver, Wash., and a 76-35 shellacking of Scappoose High School, from a suburb of Portland, Ore. Both teams play at Oregon's version of the 3A level.
Eight of the 10 players scored in the first game, with high-scorers Brittany Fenumiai, a junior, and Taylor Larsen, a sophomore, combining for 27 points.
All 10 girls got in on the scoring in the second game, with Fenumiai again leading the way with 14 points. In a display of the team's depth, three girls - juniors Mahlete Tingley and Kristen Dierck and sophomore Sarah Tarver - chipped in 11 apiece.
"Nobody down there thought we had any seniors, and we looked small, but they ended up playing great," Knight said. "We're little and young, but these girls play with hustle and heart."
The team displayed the style it has become known for in Oregon, picking up teams with presses and running out steals for easy looks. The key to the game plan, Knight said, was that all 10 of her players are interchangeable at most positions.
"The other coaches were surprised that our subs are just as good as our starters. We like to say the first round we wear them down, and the second round we get 'em," Knight said.
The coach did not rule out rotating more younger players up onto varsity later in the season. For now, though, Crimson Bears fans should limber up their necks to watch the same old cast of characters.
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