As last season came to a close, Hunting Hills senior girls Lightning basketball head coach Jill de Jonge was looking ahead to the current campaign as one in which her team’s potential would come to fruition.
So far, so good.
“It’s nice to have that veteran presence that’s back to set the tone for work ethic in practice,” de Jonge, who has seven returning players on her roster, said Thursday following a 62-50 win over the visiting Wetaskiwin Sabres.
The Lightning sideline boss also some impressive first-year talent at her disposal.
“Our JVs won a championship last year, so it’s been nice having that (winning) experience as well,” said the coach. “Some of them got into our starting lineup during the first week or so. It’s been really great having that strong JV presence.
“They’re not intimidated. They have that mentality that they’re here to play.”
The Lightning returnees are forwards Madi Nimmo and Gabby Spenst, shooting guards Kelsey Kolesnik and Kaylee Lukawiecki, point guard Sarah Stewart and posts Brooke Vanhantsaeme and Kristen Loney, who sat out Thursday’s outing due to injury.
“We missed her,” said de Jonge, in reference to Loney. “She’s good for at least 10 points and about 15 rebounds a game, and we were lacking in rebounds tonight.”
New to the team this season are point guard Jessie Handley, guard/forward Sarah Stahl and posts Leah Hagel and Paige Hagel.
Blessed with a number of taller players, the Lightning game plan to date this season has revolved around working the ball inside.
“Lately, we’ve been focusing on transition,” said de Jonge. “It wasn’t something that we really brought into our game until recently, but our strength is our inside game. We have some nice height, so we’ve tried to promote at least getting the ball to our posts and getting that look.
“That being said, our shooting is starting to come, so its a nice balance.”
Vanhantsaeme led the Lightning with 13 points Thursday. Spenst scored nine points and Handley and Leah Hagel each netted eight.
Hunting Hill improved to 4-1 in league play and have a 3-3 record in tournaments, including a 2-1 slate at the Lethbridge Chinook event last weekend.
“The team is starting to come, we’re not peaking yet and we don’t want to be at this time,” said de Jonge. “I see the progress — the girls are working towards the vision for the end of the season.”
Hunting Hills and fellow Red Deer schools Notre Dame and Lindsay Thurber will host the provincial 4A girls and boys championships in March.
“There’s a lot on the line this year,” said de Jonge, in regards to winning a zone title or earning the second spot as the provincial host team.