STERLING – No post? No problem, says Sterling girls basketball coach Julie Schroeder. At least when her Warriors have possession of the rock.
With six of her top eight players having graduated this past spring, Schroeder doesn’t have a true post at her disposal. The quickness and shooting prowess of those who will be on the floor will make life miserable for teams as they match up.
But on defense?
“Like always, we’ll get up and guard people,” Schroeder said. “Communication will be one of our biggest issues. Our ability to defend in the post is where we’ll have to make our mark. They have to be willing to talk to one another. Every kid’s gonna be in the post.”
The Warriors return three seniors who are eager to pay their training forward.
“The seniors we lost were great leaders and showed us the ropes,” point guard Paige Lobdell said. “Now it’s our turn to bring the sophomores and juniors along. We’re hoping to uphold the standards they set.”
Aleena Hammelman is the team’s lone returning starter, and has been in the starting five since her sophomore season. The leader among Sterling’s returnees in the big three offensive categories last season (11.2 points per game, 6.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists), she’s been very encouraged by the newcomers’ willingness to get after it.
“A lot of them have stepped up,” Hammelman said. “They’re coming out of their comfort zone and driving to the basket more. Toughness can get contagious, and there’s no shortage of that on this team.”
Ashli King was the captain of the Warriors’ softball team and – a coach’s daughter – will be an asset on the floor for Schroeder. The three upperclassmen will serve as the team’s captains.
Lobdell will be pushed by junior McKenna Pearson for minutes. She plans to make her fellow point guard miserable in practice, the same way Nicole Renner did a year ago.
“It’s nice to have someone to compete against and pushing you to play the best you can every time you’re out there,” Lobdell said. “That might be the deciding factor on whether you’re on the floor when it matters.”
The duo will be integral to the Warriors’ success, as they will run the floor more than in recent memory.
“We’ve always preached getting into the offense quickly, and that might be more important this year than ever before,” Schroeder said. “We’ll have five kids on the floor who can run the floor and handle the ball. You never know what you’re going to see from us.”
The Warriors have added a win each of the last three seasons, with 21 in 2009, 22 in 2010 and 23 last year. It isn’t lost on King that the team’s tradition – not to mention being back-to-back conference champs – has a way of drawing attention.
“We know we have targets on our back and teams want to come at us,” King said. “But we’ll be ready. Anybody on this team can shoot the ball and drive it. It’s hard to keep up with us.”
Firmly stuck in the craw of the Warriors’ senior triumvirate is their heart-breaking 54-51 loss to Galesburg in the regional finals last season. The Warriors’ signature defense was MIA in the first half, but only allowed 12 points in the second. A 3-point attempt rattling in and out was the difference between them being able to pull out a gritty victory and advance to sectionals.
“We want that one back,” Lobdell said. “It was an amazing comeback, and now we’re looking to take that second half and put that second half into the full four quarter of every game this season.”
2012 Sterling Warriors
Coach: Julie Schroeder (5th season, 85-40)
Key returners: Aleena Hammelman, senior G; Paige Lobdell, senior G; Ashli King, senior G
Key losses: Nicole Renner, Lauren Hernandez, Angie Minnick, Steph Echebarria
Mon. Stillman Valley 7:30
Tues. at Sherrard 7:30
Thurs. Dixon 7:30
Fri. at Newman 8
Sat. at Rock Falls 8