WOODWARD — Three of five starters are gone, taking with them over one half of the total points and total rebounds, as well as a wealth of experience and leadership. Other than that, things appear to be normal, or so smiled Woodward-Granger girls cage coach Corey Schneider.
"I think there will be a few changes," he smiled. "It is the same thing for all of our sports, both the girls and the boys here: we had some outstanding athletes in last year’s class and each sport will have to take their turn adjusting to not having them.
"For us that means having to become more of a perimeter-oriented team and one that is going to have to really focus on playing good defense," Schneider said. "We will have to make some changes, but that does not mean we are going to stop being a good team. If we stay patient and remain positive I think we will see real progress as we go along — we will not be as outright athletic up and down the lineup as we were, but we are still going to play a good brand of basketball."
The Hawks were 19-5 overall last year and 14-4 in WCC play. They are 53-20 (.726) over the past three seasons, and while Schneider knows his 2013-14 squad will have to be at their very best to maintain that pace he is not without reason for optimism.
Senior Katelyn Major and junior Abby Musser return to the starting lineup, with juniors Abby Hansen, Tori Manning and Annie Webb and sophomore Dalaney Bice all back as well after earning varsity letters last winter.
"We have plenty of girls who saw time on the floor," Scheinder said, "now it is about getting them to step into full-time roles and, for some of them, into different roles. How soon we can come together as a unit will go a long way in telling what kind of a year we will have."
Major was second on the team in scoring last year with an average of 8.8 points per game and is the leading returning rebounder with 2.5 caroms per outing. She also had 52 steals, second most among the returning players.
"Katelynn benefitted from receiving a lot of open looks last year and is going to have to work on getting herself open more this year," Schneider said. "We will need her to score, of course, but it will also be just as important to see her grab a lot more rebounds, which was something she was not really asked to do last year."
Running the point will be Musser, who gives the Hawks an experienced — and speedy — presence out front on both ends of the floor.
Musser averaged 5.5 points, 3.5 assists and 2.4 steals per contest as a sophomore. She was second on the team at the foul line, draining 64 percent of her free throws.
"Abby is certainly quick enough to get her own shot, but, just as importantly, she can use her speed and ball handling to get open shots for the other girls as well," Schneider said. "She has had a lot of success in several sports and what that translates to is someone who is not going to get rattled and who will stay pretty even-keeled, and that is definitely her personality. I don’t have any worries about her."
Bice will be expected to take up some of the space inside and to become more of an offensive threat. The same can also be said for Hansen and Webb, as the trio will have to take up the slack under the glass.
"Abby (Hansen) will play good defense for us, but we need her to be more aggressive with the ball and make herself a legitimate threat on the offensive end," Schneider said. "The same goes for Dalaney and Annie … and we need to keep them out of foul trouble and on the floor."
Manning will also see plenty of playing time on the perimeter and "is going to have to knock down her shots" as the Hawks switch to more of an outside game, Schneider said.
"We are not suddenly going to start firing 3-pointers all over the place, but what I want to see is for us to sink good 12-15 footers, which will help open things up on the inside for us. The one thing I do know is that this team is going to be so much better in two months it won’t seem like the same group of girls are playing."