HRV girls basketball coach Tracy Norton is staring at a bit of a quandary to start the 2002-03 season.
The second-year head coach lost three-fourths of her roster to graduation, and now, one of her two returning starters, senior point guard Becca Meierbachtol, is saddled with an injury that may keep her out until mid-January.
But if you ask Norton if she’s concerned, she’ll calmly point to a list of six hard-working underclassmen who have already earned her respect.
“We have a lot of quick, smart young players this year,” she said. “They are fundamentally sound and are used to playing against good competition.
“We may make some mistakes early in the season, but I’m confident in the athleticism and toughness that I’ve seen so far,” she said.
Taking to the forefront early in the season will be Meierbachtol’s understudies, sophomore Kristen Hedges and freshman Stefanie Draper. Hedges is slated to start the season at the point, with Draper playing at the two-guard.
“The one positive that comes out of losing a starter like Becca is that the younger girls will get plenty of varsity experience before league play begins,” Norton said.
“These are kids who work their butts off in practice every night, and I believe that they have enough experience to keep us moving forward until Becca gets back.”
Another young impact player for the Eagles this year will be sophomore Talia Hinman, who will see most of her time at the small forward and power forward positions. If the Eagles are to be successful in the IMC, Hinman will be asked to score and rebound, and play defense in the post.
“Talia is going to contribute a lot right away,” Norton said. “She can play a number of positions and she is extremely tough, not to mention very athletic.”
Versatility is going to be one of the keys for HRV this year, and with a quality assortment of “swing” players and much-improved team speed, they should be able to overcome a few height disadvantages.
Adding some zip to the lineup in 2002-03 are three of last year’s JV stars: Anna Hidle, Suni Davis and Alyssa Ortega. All three are juniors and will play significant minutes at the shooting guard and small forward positions, alongside senior Becki Flory.
Flory will be counted on for leadership this season and may be asked to score more after three of the team’s leading scorers, Lindsay Benjamin, Mickie Halliday and Meghan Merz, graduated.
“We’re looking for Becki to take on a leadership role with the team this year,” Norton said. “She’s also going to have to be more offensive-minded and look to score when she has the open shot.”
In addition, Flory will need to keep up the defensive intensity that made her last season’s team leader in steals. Her quick hands and anticipation of the passing lanes will be critical to helping HRV run an effective fast break — something they were unable to do consistently last year.
“I expect us to be much more defensive-minded this year,” Norton said. “We’re going to take advantage of our quickness and try to press teams more, which should lead to more early offense.”
To provide those fast-break opportunities, the Eagles’ post defenders must overcome the loss of seniors Lesley Betts, Halliday and Merz in the middle. The three players entrusted with that challenge will be seniors Brittany Reed and Lori Wimmers, and freshman Megan Flem.
“I’m not too worried about our lack of size because we’re a much different team than last year,” Norton said. “We were a lot more post-oriented last year, and this year we have a lot of quick, guard-type players who can get out and run the floor.”
Reed, Wimmers and Flem will do their best to match up against the larger, more physical teams from Pendleton, Hermiston and Bend as the Eagles move into the Intermountain Conference.
“I would say the playoffs are within our reach,” Norton said. “After Hermiston and Pendleton, I’m not sure what to expect. But I look forward to scouting them.”
Norton already knows that Hermiston is one of the top five teams in the state, and should be the best team in the IMC “by far.” She is also familiar with Pendleton’s strength after playing them during the 2001-02 preseason.
The Eagles begin the season Monday night when they host the Hood River Jamboree. Their first preseason game is next Friday at home against Reynolds, and the league opener is Jan. 10 at home versus Redmond.
“One thing I do know is that this season is going to be fun,” Norton said. “The style of play and this group of girls will make for a fun brand of basketball.”