North Tahoe girls basketball coach Rick Buhler is confident that his starting five can play with any team in the Division III ranks.
With only eight players total, however, the Lakers can ill afford to suffer many injury setbacks in their pursuit of a deep postseason run.
It's a good thing the season is young, as starting center Sage Chador already went down with an ankle injury, but is expected to return in time for league play following the holiday break.
"It's unfortunate because she was just starting to play really well," Buhler said. "They all are starting to play well."
A year after playing into the Northern Division III regional playoffs (then called the 2A) before losing to Yerington in the first round, the Lakers return several key components and are poised to exceed last year's achievements.
"Absolutely. We expect to. That's one of our team goals," Buhler said. "We want more wins than last year, we want to do better in league and we want to go farther in the playoffs."
The Lakers have all the ingredients to meet that goal. Every member of North Tahoe's starting five is capable of putting up points in a hurry, led by three quick guards and two tall post players holding down the paint.
Elizabeth Buhler, who was voted to the All-Mount Rose League first team last season, is the only senior on the roster. She always played point guard in the past but will move over to shooting guard against certain defenses this year to free up her accurate perimeter shot, her coach said.
When Buhler does shift from the point to the wing, versatile junior Angela Wood or sophomore guard Sara Trimm can handle the ball. The trio of skilled guards creates trouble for opposing offenses, particularly with its full-court pressure, coach Buhler said.
"In our front court we're fast and have quick hands. Our pressure D is really good right now," the coach said.
Complementing the Lakers' solid guard play are two talented bigs - 5-11 junior Taylor Briggs and Chador, a 6-1 sophomore. Both continue to improve all the time and have already shown flashes of brilliance, said coach Buhler, who lost to graduation two All-League talents in Samantha Jeffers and Irene Rojas.
"We lost those two, but Sage and Taylor are making up for Sam, without a doubt, and I think we have more speed than we did last year," the coach said. "I think we're a more well-rounded team. Elizabeth, Sara and Angela are all in double figures. The scoring is more balanced. We're getting more production out of more players."
While they're not remotely deep, with only three subs, the Lakers also boast some talent coming off the bench. Scrappy freshman guard Mallory Tyler has started in Chador's absence, giving North Tahoe a smaller, quicker lineup when she's in, while freshman forward Jordan Briggs and sophomore forward Savannah App can hold their own as well.
Buhler said App came out late and has only four practices under her belt, but the 5-8 post player has demonstrated good natural ability and basketball savvy.
"She needs to get up to speed on the schemes, but her athleticism and toughness will be good," the coach said. "She has a nose for ball, which you can't teach. She will be a big help once she gets comfortable."
As far as the Lakers' competition, Buhler expects his team to be able to play with anyone, both in the Northern Division III and their Division III and Division I-A-mixed Mount Rose League, which includes larger schools Truckee, South Tahoe and Sparks.
Defending DIII state champion Pershing County should again be the team to beat, Buhler said, while Yerington and White Pine are among the top teams in the Northern DIII. Basin rival Incline always poses a tough matchup.
"I think the league is wide open," said Buhler, whose team will be tested when Pershing County visits North Tahoe for a crossover game on Jan. 5. "I think it's pretty evenly matched. If we could just weather the storm here through the break, we should be fine."