South Tahoe girls b-ball aims for postseason with senior-heavy group
All but three of the players on this year’s South Tahoe girls basketball team are seniors — but only three of its players have experience on the varsity level. The Vikings enter the 2014-15 season with a seasoned but untested group.
“In terms of playing varsity during the regular season, they’re newcomers — but as a group, they’re not,” Vikings head coach Mike Neiger said. “They put in hours during the summer — it was the best I’ve ever seen.”
South Tahoe graduated five players from last year’s team that went 9-14 and finished fifth in the Div. I-A Northern League, failing to make the playoffs for the first time during Neiger’s tenure. The Vikings missed out on the postseason by one game, and are determined to finish in the top four this season.
“We had a couple games last year that we thought we should have won that cost us the four slot — we learned from that and move to this season with playoffs in mind,” Neiger said. “We are on the cusp for sure — we just have to be able to take that next step. If they continue to grow and jell as a unit, they can realize their potential.”
Senior guard Ally King, senior forward Andi Embry and junior guard Bailey Barcellos are the Vikings’ lone players that begin the season with varsity experience. Neiger said that trio set the tone for South Tahoe during a successful summer and offseason.
“This is a great group of girls, and I’m excited to see where this season leads us — we have the potential to work well together,” Barcellos said. “We want it, we want it bad, and we’re going to get it — we’re going to work hard.”
The Vikings’ nine seniors that didn’t play on varsity last season include Catherine Baghdikian, Christina Boyar, Haley Crowson, Valeria Garcia, Rachael Lamore, Esperanza Moreno, Alicia Rea and Joemae Santos. Sophomores Drue Chapman and Zoe Mosedale are the only underclassmen on the team, and will play in the backcourt.
“This is the best makeup of a unit yet,” Neiger said. “The past few years we didn’t jell just right chemistrywise — with this group, that totally changed. They changed it this summer, really came together and it shows.”
“We’ve all been kind of separated — some of us are from varsity last year, but most of us are from JV,” added Embry, a three-year varsity player. “Blending the two groups and being able to work together is key.”
During the offseason, Neiger made attention to detail a point of emphasis. The Vikings lost a handful of games last season because they were unable to play a complete 32-minute contest, and plan to fix that this year with detail-oriented play.
“That’s what we always worked on — rather than just showing up and doing it, we worked little by little on details and that improved our game in a huge way,” Barcellos said.
South Tahoe gained valuable on-court experience during the summer — and also found an identity defensively. After running primarily zone last season, the Vikings decided to try man-to-man at a summer tournament — and that will be the defensive foundation of this year’s team.
“The past couple of years we haven’t been able to accomplish that and we just played a zone — this summer we worked on man a lot, and this team can get it done,” King said. “We need to stay focused and keep working on our defense — really perfect it.”
The Vikings’ defense should lead to increased opportunities for its offense, which will look to push the ball at every opportunity. In transition and through early offense is how South Tahoe plans to do its damage this season.
South Tahoe tipped off the season Tuesday night at Incline, and will play in a tournament at Reno High Thursday through Saturday — the Vikings begin the season with nine road games before hosting North Valleys on Dec. 20. STHS starts league play Dec. 12 at Truckee, and plays its first home league contest Jan. 2 against Elko.
Defending Div. I-A state champion Lowry, Elko and Spring Creek finished atop the league last season with identical records — and Neiger expects all three teams to be strong again this year. There isn’t a clear-cut favorite for the fourth spot — South Tahoe has plans to take it.
“We hope to get state, and if not maybe regionals — we’re good enough to make it there,” Chapman said. “Other teams don’t expect us to be as good because we have a wide variety of experience. I think we’ll surprise them — I think we’ll show them.”