Hunting Hills Lightning head coach Jill de Jonge’s eyes light up when discussing this year’s edition of her senior girls’ basketball team.
Although she has only four veterans and four Grade 10s on the 11-player roster it’s the potential that has her excited.
“I’m really excited about the direction we’re headed,” she said following a 76-44 victory over the Ponoka Broncs in Central Alberta High School League action at Hunting Hills Wednesday.
“What we work on in practice we take into the games,” she added.
“This week we worked on the fast break and tonight the girls had their heads up, were looking to make the pass and were pushing the ball up court. I haven’t seen that for some time. I like the way they’re responding.”
Of the four veterans, three of them — Jaden Robinson, Teagen Booth and Rachel Ruz — are in Grade 12 with Allie Busch in Grade 11.
Zaza Lochart, who played JV last season is the only other Grade 12 player on the roster.
Madi Nimmo, Kaylee Lukawiecki, Brooke Vanhantsaeme and six-foot Jonna Stewart are all in Grade 10 and played under head coach Jody Potts last year.
“Jody did a great job giving the girls the fundamentals then we have Fiona (Hicks) in Grade 10, so we had coaches that provided a good base,” said de Jonge.
Drew McKinlay and Nicole Fischer both are in Grade 11 and moved up from the JV program.
The girls are still learning, said de Jonge, but “it’s a journey and the finished product is what’s important. We’ve taken it on the chin a few times early on, but we’re continuing to improve.”
Team scoring is something that has continued to improve.
“We had to score more and the girls have worked on it and are being rewarded,” said de Jonge.
The team has also shown excellent defensive abilities.
“Our defence is already better than last year. The girls are more aggressive and smarter and the veterans have picked it up from last year and are providing great leadership,” added de Jonge.
Robinson and Fischer led the Lightning Wednesday with 11 points each while McKinlay added 10 and Nimmo nine. Bobi Langan had 10 for Ponoka.
Broncs 72 Lightning 59
Meanwhile on the boys’ side, head coach Scott Doan has six players back from last year, but only Jesse Ross was a starter.
Sean Campbell, Luke Beasley, Mackenzie Wright, Dan Ripley and Matt Mackie are the other returnees and all but Ripley are in Grade 12.
Doan also kept two Grade 10s in Jordan Vincent and Cody Pratt with Keith McElhanney transferring in from Hunting Hills.
Dan Billett, who is Grade 11, moved up from the JV team while Evan Petriew is in Grade 12 and Linden Petersen Grade 11.
“We don’t have a lot of height, but we’re not short either,” said Doan, prior to a 72-59 loss to Ponoka. “We’re fast enough and we play good defence. What we’ve been working on is our scoring.
“We’ve played all 4A schools so far this year and held most of them to around 60 points, so anytime you can do that you’ll be in the game, but we have struggled offensively.”
The Lightning go into this season as the defending 4A zone champions, led by Dallas Hancox, who is with the RDC Kings.
“Last year we were 10 deep and this year it’s six or seven deep. But we’ll keep developing and get to eight or nine deep,” he said. “Right now we’re struggling a bit, but it’s where we are the end of the year that counts.”
One of the problems Doan sees is that the veteran players need to step up and realize the game is in their hands.
“Last year they could rely on the other guys to do it. Now it’s their turn to step up and do it themselves. It’s a learning stage and on the positive side is that they’re all good kids with a good work ethic. They’ll figure it out.”
Ross had 18 points and Wright 11 for the Lightning against the Broncs, who got 22 points from Travis Lee and 18 from Ethan Minde.