As the calendar flips to 2015 and the senior girls basketball season gets rolling, Erin Steele leads the GW Graham Grizzlies into battle.
Steele is the only Grade 12 player on a roster that is small in numbers and experience, but big in skill and heart.
“I wish there were more seniors, but it is what it is,” Steele said. “But we really do have a strong group of Grade 11’s and I think we’re going to go far this year.”
Steele is joined by four Grade 11 players.
Katherine Holden, Heather Thomson, Hope Debruyn and Kassa Dueck bring diverse skill sets.
The four of them have played together since Grade 7.
“Heather is an all-round player who can take the three point shot or drive the lane,” said coach Sarah Mouritzen. “She’s a natural talent. I wish she’d decide that basketball was going to be her be-all-end-all because she could be a superstar.”
Holden is GW Graham’s point guard, and spent the summer honing her craft at several camps. A long-range gunner, Holden is lethal from three point land, reminiscent of former GWG star Kaitlyn McDonald.
Dueck is a power forward, bring unmatched feistiness to the court with a defence-first mind-set.
The GWG roster includes two Debruyns, both rapidly improving. Hope is six inches taller than her sister Josi, who is in Grade 9.
Both are solid all-round players.
The youngest player is Deanna Tuchscherer, daughter of University of the Fraser Valley womens’ b-ball coach Al Tuchscherer.
Deanna’s only in Grade 8, but she oozes skill and is already the team’s tallest player.
“She’s going to be something pretty special, but she’s still young and learning,” Mouritzen noted. “Deanna and Josi both have skills out the ying-yang, and they’ve put a lot of time and effort in. The decision was about whether they’d be able to handle minutes at this level and be a factor, and absolutely they can be.”
“We’re very protective of them in games seeing where their level is emotionally on the court,” Mouritzen continued. “But both of them are level-headed kids, mature for their age in terms of basketball.”
As the lone senior, it falls to Steele to be the big sister and usher the youngsters through the inevitable growing pains.
“I wish there were more seniors, but it is what it is,” Steele said. “It’s my job to be a role model and be there for all of my teammates when they need me. It’s also setting a good example on how to lead so that when it’s their turn they know how to do it.”
Steele learned from one the best in McDonald, who now rains down three balls with the UFV Cascades.
“She was so positive about everything and she’s the hardest worker I’ve ever been around,” said Steele, who was in Grade 10 when McDonald was finishing up her senior season.”
If you read the story to this point and counted just seven players, you may now be asking yourself, ‘where’s the rest of the team?’
The Grizzly roster in its entirety is just seven players deep.
Mouritzen had anticipated having a second senior player, but that girl opted to focus on provincial level weight-lifting instead.
That necessitates some changes in how they may play.
Normally, Mouritzen coaches a high-tempo style, running the floor offensively with aggressive defence.
But with just two reserves at her disposal (assuming good health all round), playing that style could leave her charges sucking wind by half-time.
“When you’re fatigued everything becomes a blur,” Steele acknowledged. “So fitness is probably the biggest thing for us to work on.”
“We’ll just have to take things quarter by quarter and not look at the clock too much,” she continued.
Mouritzen will be challenged in a different way with bench management.
Usually, it’s about making sure starters are rested and everyone sees playing time. This year is about making sure no one collapses from exhaustion and her team stays as healthy as possible.
Just one injury could be catastrophic.
“We’ll use subs whenever we possibly can, particularly with our big players, because we only have two in the post,” Mouritzen said. “As soon as the other team gives their bigger girls a rest, we’re doing the same. We’ll use our timeouts and we will bring up some of the juniors from time to time if we feel they can give us some quality minutes.”
Mouritzen’s crew will play an uncharacteristic half-court game, slowing things down rather than speeding things up.
“We’ve always liked to press and challenge, but we’ll use it very sparingly in short bursts,” she conceded. “It definitely changes things for us defensively. Opponents who want to test us will try to run us.”
Mouritzen describes her crew as small but mighty, and despite the obvious challenges, they’re still getting respect in provincial rankings.
“I think we work well as a team and I think during any game this season, any one of us could be the high scorer,” Steele said. “That’s because all of us have played together so long, and I think that and our talent could carry us far.”