It felt strange to spend the first week of practice working on offense, Hillsboro High School head girls’ basketball coach Nathan Hiebert admitted.
Hiebert has made some adjustments based on the personnel returning this season. The Trojans are replacing some of the traditional motion elements of the offense used last season and with an emphasis on drives and on-ball screens.
He feels this offense will utilize an athletic advantage Hillsboro will have with point guard Danae Bina, shooting guard Maci Schlehuber, small forward Addie Lackey, and power forward Tena Loewen. Each of those players is versatile enough to shoot, drive all the way to the rim, or find any combination of cutting teammates.
Versatility is a team-wide characteristic that won’t change this season. The trait is something Hiebert has worked to build program-wide over his five-year coaching tenure. When he started, he could only trust his designated point guards to push the ball up the floor. Gradually that increased to last season when he encouraged seven of his top 11 rotation to transform a rebound into a fast break. Added to Schlehuber, Lackey, Loewen, and Bina, freshman forward Alex Ratzlaff and backup guards Maddi Duerksen and Allison Weber would be in this same position.
Loewen exemplifies the Trojans’ versatility on defense. Loewen often guarded a team’s best post player, but she is also seen checking players on either wing. Although Hiebert does not ask her to do it often, she could shadow even the speediest point guards all the way up the floor.
Lackey has also shown acumen as a lockdown defender. With quickness and high basketball intelligence, she can guard any opponent with the possible exception of 6-foot, back-to-the-basket centers. Bina can guard any of the top three positions on the court. Schlehuber could guard players on either wing.
“I’m trying to make sure kids are well-rounded. Most girls can play most of the court,” Hiebert said. “They’re not robots, who just have one job they repeat over and over. Late in the season, you have to be able to adapt.”
If there is any tenet that is the foundation to Hiebert’s coaching philosophy, it is high-pressure but disciplined man-to-man defense. Although the Trojans would often apply full court pressure, Hillsboro did not often commit reach-in or other fouls gambling for steals. The Trojans do not block many shots but they contest jumpers with sound positioning and then quickly block out for boards.
Some younger players have asked Hiebert in the first week of the season how they can secure more playing time. He responded: “If you want on the court, I have to trust you to play defense.”
“If we can’t keep teams from scoring, it will be a long night.”
Fear not aspiring Hillsboro role players. To play his desired style, Hiebert will need to call on his bench. Although Loewen and Lackey were Hillsboro’s top rebounders and scorers, the Trojans lost starting seniors Stephanie Sanders, Callie Serene, and Krista Reimer. Forwards Courtney Weber and Amy Bartel were key players off the bench.
Hiebert expects senior forwards Christina Morris and Erin Winter to replace some of the production of Reimer, Weber, and Bartel. Both Morris and Winter played much more in the second half of the season after Loewen went down with an ACL injury. Hiebert said they have both improved on defense and they should contribute rebounds on both ends of the court. Morris, Winter, and Ratzlaff are competing for a possible starting position before the season starts. Ratzlaff has an edge in athleticism but is adjusting to varsity high school basketball coming from middle school, with a change in terminology and practice intensity.
Junior Maddi Duerksen and sophomores Allison Weber, Tara Proffitt, and Kennedy Lucero may be called to contribute as guards off the bench. Schlehuber has developed as Hillsboro’s No. 1 3-point threat this season, Hiebert said. If any of the four guards mentioned can knock down outside shots with regularity, they could easily become a fixture of the Hillsboro offense, allowing space for Lackey and Loewen to operate in the lane. Hiebert was keen on Duerksen because of her length on defense.
“With this style of play, I have to rely on quite a few different girls,” Hiebert said.
Along with his expectation to play the same up-tempo style, Hiebert said the goal for the upcoming season has not changed from last year, which is to win a state championship.
As he has by building a program from the strong basketball tradition in Hillsboro, Hiebert is looking to build on some traits where the Trojans excel. The theme of practice on Nov. 14 was unselfishness. With a collection of players that genuinely like each other, Hiebert said it is a pleasure to coach a team that is resoundingly unselfish.
However, he took the concept a step further than just sharing the ball — it is also about shared effort. A simple shooting drill served as his example. During a pause, he told the rebounding players who were mostly relaxing to quickly get the ball to the shooters. They should want their players to get the most shots possible; they should want to help their teammates be even better by putting in additional effort.
“You can’t be concerned about how tired you are, you have to be concerned about making everybody better,” Hiebert said. “I was proud of the girls for their effort in that practice.”
The concept applies to how the Trojans work together. With Loewen, Lackey, Schlehuber, and Bina, Hillsboro will have one of the best starting lineups in the state. Hiebert said team roles will work themselves out over time with nothing set before the Trojans play a game.
It’s probable though that Loewen steps right back into her role attacking out of the high post, running the floor to finish fast breaks, and being a demon on the offensive glass. It’s probable Schlehuber becomes the reliable gunner who opposing teams won’t dare to leave. It’s probable that Bina will be the manic, attacking guard she was last season — applying pesky defense and sprinting up and down the floor, hanging onto control by a fingertip. It’s probable that Lackey takes another step forward as Hillsboro’s most creative offensive player, scoring whenever and however she wants but preferring to set up her teammates with easy layups.
It’s probable that the Trojans will play a fun brand of team basketball.
It’s probable the Trojans will end up back in the state tournament for a fifth consecutive year.