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Hunting Hills senior basketball retooling program

Both teams are young and improving
Hunting Hills Lightning senior girls basketball player Emily Holweg makes a move to the net against the Lacombe Rams Tuesday night at Hunting Hills High School. (Photo by Ian Gustafson/ Advocate staff)

Rather than focusing on the wins and losses, the Hunting Hills Lightning senior basketball teams have their sights set on improving every single day.

Both teams are young after a number of Grade 12 students graduated at the end of the last season which has led to new players filling those holes.

Despite that, both coaching staffs have already seen improvement in their athletes.

Head coach of the senior girl’s Lightning Jill de Jonge said so far they’ve faced some tough competition in conference play and in tournaments. However, there have been some growing pains, which is to be expected with a young team.

“We’re pretty young, hardworking, and fast-paced. It seems to be sort of their style right now,” she said. “What I can see us building on would be a hardworking defence that converts into a faster-paced type offence.”

“They’re gritty defensive players which I really like. I have some size and it’s exciting they’re big and aggressive and they know what to do with the ball.”

There are four returning players with plenty of new faces including Hannah Stewart, Mary Stephan, Stephan Walters, Kaitlin Heinzlmeir, Alina Gregory, Jheria Hollman, Mirsi Brokke, Eaven Clark, Hadley Guenther, Grace Watson, Emily Holweg, Jenna Jennings, and Kassidy Elliot. The team is made up of three in Grade 10, five in Grade 12, and six in Grade 11.

“I want them to compete. We’re still kind of coming off a COVID-19 hangover type of thing so I really do just want them to get some basketball IQ built in and some game experience that we can build on moving forward,” she added.

Last year this team placed second in the 4A central zone after losing to the Lindsay Thurber Raiders in the championship. this time around, de Jonge said the Raiders will once again be the team to beat after they returned a strong core of players.

Head coach of the senior boy’s team Matt Tillapaugh there is a learning curve to start off the season.

“I’ve seen some growing pains so far with them but the guys are super coachable, they’re very athletic, and they’re willing to learn. I think the growth is going to get there by the end of the year,” he said.

With a roster of four Grade 12s, six Grade 11s, and two Grade 10s they’ve approached the season as a process to build the program back up rather than win based. It also helps to have four returnees from the squad last season even though they finished second last in the league.

“It’s a pretty big turnover for a senior program but coming out of the pandemic years we know it would be a couple of years of rebuilding,” Tillapaugh explained.

The senior players he said have put the team first and the younger players have been willing to learn what it takes to be a senior basketball player. It’s early in the season but the coach feels his team is on the right track to improving the team for the next few years.

Tillapaugh said Grade 12 player Connor Heintz has made major strides in his game since the beginning of last year which has earned him some interest from a few college teams.

Will Jackson has shown plenty of effort, heart, and leadership as well as improved his skills on the court.

Alex Wilson has also improved in his second year as a senior and has shown signs of being more vocal and providing energy for the team. Lucas Schmidt, who is in Grade 11 this year, has played limited minutes but has shown growth early on.

He also added Riley Easton has been a pure shooter that has been a key offensive contributor offensively.

The rest of the team includes Ethan Bilo, Aldin Bilalbegovic, Mahad Khan, Drayden Cameron, Marek Filipek, Aaron Brewster, and Jonah Jensen.

“We’re actually pretty tall and long and we’re very athletic. What we’re lacking right now in basketball experience we’re going to make up I think in athleticism. Due to that, I think you’re going to see a lot of growth because they’re willing to learn,” he said.

Ian Gustafson

About the Author: Ian Gustafson

Ian began his journalism career as a reporter in Prince Albert, Sask. for the last three years, and was born and raised in Saskatchewan.
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