Horizon basketball preview: Growing up fast

December 3, 2011

The Horizon Hawks are a year older and a year wiser.

That should make the rest of the Big Sky League rather afraid.

The Horizon boys bring back the core of a team that finished fifth in the 1A state tournament in Baker City last year, and on paper may be more talented.

However, they are quick to point out that doesn't mean a whole lot.

"At the end of the day paper doesn't mean a whole lot," coach Darrin Lingel said. "You have to out and prove it."

That is what the Hawks intend to do.

The team returns point guard Max Totaro, swing man Sam Anthony and post Matt Totaro as starters from last year's team, which made it to the state semifinals.

Added to the mix is junior 6'7 post Jake Wells, a transfer from Trout Lake, who should improve the Hawks' needs at the low block and rebounding.

The fifth spot can be filled by a mix of experienced role players, with sophomore Micah Engel getting the first start of the season.

The team is still working out the kinks of the new lineup and the advantage of having a 6'7 force at the post.

"Our starters are coming together," Max Totaro said. "During the summer we had the chemistry down but then we had a long break."

Lingel is confident everything will fall in to place.

"We're still growing," he said. "Adding new pieces changes chemistry."

While it may take them a little while into the non-league schedule to find their rhythm again, the Hawks are hoping to pick up right where they left off last season when the league slate begins in January.

"I think we have more talent this season," Anthony said. "Plus we are more disciplined."

The Hawks went 13-2 in league and 25-6 overall last year on their way to a Big Sky league title.

The Hawks know they can score plenty of points, with practically the entire roster capable of hitting double-digit totals on any given night. This year Lingel is pushing defense and rebounding to make the Hawks a better all-around team.

He feels he has the personnel to make the Hawks better at their full-court-press defense.

"We're not going to change a whole lot from what we were last year," he said. "We are going to have a lot of full-court-press and trapping."

Between the team's ability to pour on points, athleticism and what they hope will be a fierce defense, the Hawks believe they are ready for another run to state.

"The kids are hungry; they want a state championship," Lingel said. "We want to get back to Baker City ... we've got some unfinished business there."

The Horizon girls team would love to get to Baker City for the first time in team history. After a year of taking their lumps with a roster filled with underclassmen and no seniors last year, the Hawks have come a long way since the start of last season.

McKenzie Mellow has developed into a formidable post player, while M'Randa Aldrich is a capable scorer from all over the floor, Dominique Figuera is a high-speed point guard, and the team has several solid returning forwards in Kasia Nielsen, Rachel Foss and Katie Tolbert. That doesn't even count some of the new faces.

"We had two freshmen play substantial minutes (in the season opener against Trout Lake)," said Horizon coach Stan Perkins. "We want to use that as inspiration. We are looking at the underclassmen to keep pushing the upperclassmen."

Freshmen Trista Hicks and Miriam Starrett both saw substantial minutes in the Hawks' opener against Trout Lake, and both figure to see a continued role going forward. Sophomore McKenna Roberts saw big minutes as a freshman last year, and figures to again see plenty of playing time this year.

"We have a bunch of good people and some really good freshmen," Mellow said.

Last season the Hawks went 6-18 overall and 4-11 in league as they went through a learning season after graduating practically the entire starting lineup of a team that got them to the district playoffs for the first time.

However, taking their lumps last season led to a team with virtually no starting varsity experience to a battle-hardened squad coming in to this year.

"We've grown together a lot more and we want to continue that this season both on and off the court," Foss said.

Perkins agreed after seeing the progress the team made over the summer.

"We are a good month ahead of what we want to implement," Perkins said. "We are well on our way with our defense."

Like the boys team, the girls squad intends to regularly deploy a full court press to try and rattle the opposition early. Both the offense and the defense are coming along, and the team hopes to cut down on its turnovers - one of its biggest issues from last year - and cause plenty for opposing teams.

"We never stop growing," Mellow said. "I'm still learning new things."

The experience and physicality the team will bring to the floor this season, figures to produce some different results from last year. After a season in which they grew tired of losing, the Hawks expect much better this year. And that starts with making improvements after every game.

"We've got some stuff to work on," Aldrich said. "But tomorrow will be different - at least it'd better be."

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