The young and eager Horizon Christian School girls basketball team started its season with a win on Friday, its first game under new coach Chad Leeson. It came in this weekend’s Horizon tournament, but was tempered by a loss to a larger, faster team on Saturday.
“Right now we’ve set a plan from day one that conditioning is our priority,” said Leeson, who works as a pastor and physical trainer.
“I saw some things over the weekend that move us toward that goal, but we need to eliminate fatigue.
“For the most part, we did pretty good. But it’s pushing through that fatigue: can they move through it and find that next level? We’re getting there. Obviously the more we can do that, leading into the season, the better we’ll be prepared,” Leeson said.
Horizon, he said, “has been very positive, a great environment, great support staff, and the girls are fantastic. They have a hunger to learn and get better.”
This is Leeson’s first high school basketball coaching position, but he got his start in fastpitch in 1987 and since has coached football (his first love) in Stevenson for the past 10 years, along with youth basketball and baseball. “I’m just a coach,” he said.
In addition to coaching, Leeson is owner of CrossFit in Stevenson and is pastor of The Bridge Community Church in Stevenson.
What the Horizon girls team needs most is getting into shape, said Leeson, who is assisted by Yvonne Huskey.
The Amity game definitely exposed some of our inabilities,” he said. “We’ll be working on that the next couple of weeks: moving the ball and protecting it.”
“We’re going to focus on three big areas: We said as a team we need to focus on improving our turnover (rate),” Leeson said. “If every week we can eliminate turnovers, hit the free throws and make the easy layups, I believe these girls will see wins.
“I think our biggest strengths are their tenacity. They’re not going to quit,” Leeson said. “And I think we do have a lot of athleticism and it just needs some skills, we just need to keep working on the skills.”
Here’s Leeson’s early season assessment of his charges:
Senior Katie Tolbert: “is definitely a leader,” he said. “She leads by doing what is asked of her. She’s consistent, and she shows that even in her free throws, in practice she is very consistent with her free throws. You know what you’ll get, and that’s hard work, She definitely knows how to play the post, she knows the inside game. We definitely need to get her the ball.”
Freshman Marlie Bloomster: “is young, but it’s also her positive. She has great height, and just a nose for the ball. She has a lot of talent, and is very athletic. I’m excited to see how she grows and develops. She’ll be a powerhouse down the road, it’s just a matter of developing those skills around her athleticism.”
Senior Alyssa Bryan “has experience and it shows,” Leeson said. “I think she has a pretty good shot, too, as well, it’s just getting her open looks. She needs confidence, and when she gets it she’ll be fantastic.”
Trista Hicks, a sophomore, “is very tenacious, very aggressive, and can be very physical, and plays the game inside as well. If she gets her fundamentals under the belt there aren’t many who can stop her.”
Hannah Lingel, a sophomore, “has incredible basketball knowledge, she knows the game inside out. She just needs to get physically better and get her motor skills to match her mind. Her defense is outstanding; she has a good nose for the ball, and is not going to let you get by her.”
Kesia Neilsen, a senior, “has a range, and she knows her range. She knows where her shots are, and she’s the best pure shooter we have on the team, so it’s just a matter of figuring out systematically how to get her the ball.
“That is one key, knowing where their shots are, we don’t want people taking shots out of their zone,” Leeson said.
Hannah Bouvard, a junior, “has good speed, good ball handling, she looks deceiving, but she is fast and can make some plays. She just needs to learn to play within herself. She’s going to get a good player.”
Hannah Kempf “is super-athletic, a strong player down low, with tons of athleticism.
Sarah Ryan, a freshman, “needs more experience, but she is a fireball.”
Leeson admits that his team has degrees of experience, but overall is raw.
“I don’t have a huge game plan for the entire season. It’s improving every week. If we can demonstrate that, and put together a practice plan together that shows we can do better.
“We’ll keep it simple, so it becomes more of a reactionary game. When they’re out there thinking too much it’s when they make mistakes.
“What we’ve working on is just breaking it down, even the smaller movements, break it town, focus on this element and build on it, keep it to building blocks. We want of focus on making good passes, making smart decisions with the ball within a system and building on that. They need to just focus on doing these things well.”
The key, Leeson said, is “reps” — repetitions, “as many as possible in a two-hour practice.
“The biggest thing they need is to get confidence. They have the ability, they just need the confidence to put it together. Our emphasis is that, win or lose we want to give God the glory.”
His players apparently are feeling that confidence.
This is what the squad’s three seniors had to say:
“I think our chances are looking pretty great,” senior Katie Tolbert said. “We’re still a new team, and we’re learning how to work together. We’re already pretty close-knit, like a big family, so I think it’ll be a great season for everybody.
“I think we can learn a little more how to react to the other team’s defense and since we don’t have a designated ball handler, we can all improve our ballhandling.”
Alyssa Bryan said, “I think we’re doing a great job this year a lot better than last, and I think that we can most definitely make it to districts and a lot farther than we did last year. We need to turn our cookie cutter offense and defense and turn it into a little more read and react.”
Kesia Neilson said, “I also think we’re doing pretty good, the team is more on an even level, all on the same level of skill. We’re all pretty close, five or six of us who are about the same, and it helps more than having one or two stars for other teams to face us.”
“We just communicate a lot, we’re all very close- knit,” Bryan said, “We hang out together a lot, and it helps us work together as a team. It definitely helps being friends, getting along as well as we do, because it definitely helps when you’re in competition.”