A good way to soften the blow of losing seven seniors is to have nine more return the next season, including your two all-conference stars.
After placing third in last year’s Class AA state tournament, the Flathead High School girls basketball team not only has nine seniors on this year’s roster, but the Bravettes also have their two all-tournament performers in Meghan O’Connell and Kendalyn Habel back for their senior seasons. Habel was also voted all-state last season and O’Connell was all-conference.
“There’s an awful lot of athleticism on the team,” said head coach Kim Elliot. “And they know how to win.”
Elliot said he has the utmost confidence in this year’s group of seniors. At this point in their careers, Elliot said he’s mostly serving as a supervisor, reminding them of the fundamentals and equipping them with the basic tools they need to win.
“They’re athletes,” he said. “I’m going to get out of their way and let them perform.”
That confidence is reflected in Elliot’s substitution philosophy, which is based on his theory of playing defense as hard as you can every second you’re on the court. If a girl plays intense defense for a few minutes and then wants to come out because she’s tired, she can. When she wants to come back in, she just needs to tell Elliot.
“It’s called, ‘Trust in them,’” Elliot said.
The Bravettes opened up their season against Lake City High School of Couer d’Alene for the second straight season, losing 54-46. The game was Flathead’s first of the year, but it was the fifth for Lake City. Before the game, Elliot said he wished his team had more time to prepare, though the Bravettes played tough against Idaho’s defending 5A state champion.
Elliot isn’t concerned about his team’s ability to keep up with other AA teams in terms of athleticism. He pointed out that many of his players are all-conference or all-state in other sports, like soccer and volleyball. The key, he said, is how they harness their athleticism and speed on the court, adding that the girls “understand from last year what defense did for them.”
“Our philosophy and theme is, ‘Win the one we’re in,’” Elliot said. “If you can take care of winning that moment, you’re going to be playing Saturday night (at the state tourney). I believe strongly in them.”
Over at Glacier High School, head coach Doug Hashley embraces the challenges his Lady Wolfpack team faces in its inaugural season on the basketball court. So do his girls. If anything, they understand the challenges help nurture a stronger sense of team.
“We’ve just got to take care of ourselves and make sure we watch each other’s backs,” Hashley said.
The Lady Pack have 18 players on their junior varsity/varsity team. Hashley said he hasn’t yet broken the squad down into JV and varsity teams. Over time, he said, the players will distinguish themselves through their play. In the meantime, Hashley is focused on driving home the basics – learning an offense, playing team defense and letting the girls adapt to each other.
Hashley said he has stressed defense from the first day of practice. Offense, he said, will come in time, but he knows the girls need to play tough defense to hang around in Class AA.
“We’re predicating our whole year on doing the little things right and making your teammates look good,” Hashley said. “It all starts with defense.”
“We know we’re starting from scratch,” he added.
Hashley said he was impressed with how quickly the girls learned the offense. After only a couple days of playing with each other for the first time, they were thrown into the position of learning an extensive offensive scheme that will guide them through the entire season.
“They’re very intelligent young girls and we’ve got to put it together,” Hashley said. “It’s going to take awhile.”
Hashley’s daughter Emilee, a 6-foot junior, is the only player with varsity experience. Last year as a sophomore at Flathead, Emilee earned all-conference honorable mention honors. Kayla Smart, another junior, played on the JV team. The rest of the girls on the Lady Pack have no JV or varsity experience. As is the theme, though, throughout Glacier’s athletic program in this inaugural year, Hashley said he and the girls are excited to be the foundation of a new tradition. Hashley acknowledges some nervousness, but that is to be expected.
“It’s been very challenging,” Hashley said during the second week of practice. “The girls really want to learn. They’re young, they’re wide-eyed, they’re intense. Everything we do in practice is new.”
Related: Class A Girls Basketball Preview
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