There have been few years since Scott Doan took over coaching the Hunting Hills Lightning senior boys basketball team in 2002 that he knew less about.
The Lightning are returning just three bench players from their zone championship team of last season and have seven players up from junior varsity team to fill out the 10-man roster.
On Thursday they opened their Central Alberta High School basketball season with a 50-29 loss to the Rocky Rebels.
Normally Doan would be working with the kids through the summer, but was unable to due to chemotherapy treatments as continues his fight against soft tissue sarcoma.
“The nice part is they’re nice kids, they seem pretty dedicated to what we want to do,” he said. “It’s just a new group and you think they’re getting it and you think they’re getting it, but we won’t know until we see how it goes (on the floor).”
Linden Petersen led the Lightning with nine points while Jordan Vincent and Dan Ripley both had eight. Cody Bott led the Rebels with 23 points while Erik Weckesser had 11.
Despite having a few weeks to work with the kids, the real test for them will come on the court.
They have a lot to live up to. The Lightning have won four of the last five zone titles but Doan is doing his best to temper expectations.
The three players back from last year’s team are Jordan Vincent, Linden Petersen and Dan Ripley. The hope is that they can pass on what they have learned over the last couple of years to the young group of players coming up like Rohit Razzaq and Zach Morgan.
“We’re starting pretty new, we’re starting to build all over again,” said Doan.
“We’ve had a good run, we’ve had three years of pretty good teams so now we’ve got to start over again. You get a little nervous because you don’t know if they’ve picked up on what you’ve done and you won’t know until the game is on and then you find out.”
It will be a work in progress all year for the Lightning as they figure out their own identity, but Doan will make sure they have a strong foundation.
“It’s always the same for me: You work hard, you run, you push the ball and you play defence,” he said. “I know a lot of teams at this time of the year spend all of their time putting the offence in place, we haven’t even touched that. I spend all my time getting in shape and putting in defence.”
Coaching basketball has been a large part of his life since he started 36 years ago at St. Paul Regional High School, but being on leave of absence from teaching with an uncertain future — his cancer is currently being held in check — it means that much more to him.
“I feel OK, the chemo took a lot out, so that was tough, but since September I haven’t done any, I have a three-month hiatus from the treatments and we’ll see how I do without anything in me,” he said. “They do want me to be more active, so that means more coaching, so that’s good, it gives me something to do.”
Lightning 45 Rebels 19
Donna Potts has been a head coach in many different sports, but this is the first time she has run a bench in basketball.
She normally is her daughter’s assistant coach with the Hunting Hills senior girls, but when Jill de Jong gave birth last week to her son Luuk de Jong, the head coaching reigns fell to Potts.
It is an opportunity she is looking forward to, but she has a veteran group of players to help her through.
That experience was on display as they beat the Rocky Rebels 45-19 in their first game of the season on Thursday at Hunting Hills High School.
“I liked the way we played defence,” said Potts.
“I thought our defence was stellar and that is going to be an important part of our game for the rest of the year. We’ve got to work on the offensive side now.”
Grade 12 post Nicole Fischer led Hunting Hills with 11 points while Allie Busch had eight. Amanda Soppit lead the Rebels with six points.
As a Grade 12 point guard, Busch will be at the centre of what they do on the court this season.
“She’s off to a great start so I’m really going to look to her to provide a lot of control on the floor,” said Potts.
They also have some up and coming pieces to build around for the future. There are a lot of returning players on this team, but most of them are just Grade 11s this year with just three Grade 12s. Though that could mean some growing pains, especially early, it sets them up for a strong couple of years.
The Lightning are coming off a zone finals loss to the Lindsay Thurber Raiders last season, and it is their goal to get back at least to that point this season, though they have their work cut out for them.
“It’s still going to be a battle between Lindsay Thurber, Hunting Hills and Notre Dame, but our goal is to win again and be back in the final,” said Potts.