MARSHALL - Size in the paint has been something the Marshall girls' basketball team has lacked in recent seasons. Dumping the ball in the low post and expecting a basket hasn't normally been a part of the gameplan, and rebounding the basketball has taken extra effort and energy against taller teams.
Not much will change for the Tigers this season, as they will again be undersized against most teams they face. But with back-to-back 20-win seasons under head coach Dan Westby, the Tigers haven't let a lack of size stop them from achieving success, and they don't plan on letting it hold them back this season either.
"I think we'll be alright," said Marshall senior point guard Kelsey Saugstad, whose team opens the season at home at 7 p.m. today against Fairmont. "We just have to work harder since we are smaller than a lot of the teams we'll be playing. We'll just have to work hard at boxing out and getting the rebounds."
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Marshall junior guard Hannah Bennett releases a jump shot while Tiger girls’ basketball head coach Dan Westby looks on during practice Monday afternoon at Marshall High School. Bennett and the Tigers open up the 2012-13 season at 7 p.m. today in Marshall against the Fairmont Cardinals.
Saugstad returns as the team's top scorer from a year ago when she averaged 14.1 points per game and shot 38.1 percent from 3-point range. She'll be joined by plenty of other familiar faces, as Marshall lost just three seniors to graduation. One of those seniors, Jessica Baker, was one of the team's top post players. Another, Kelli VanLeeuwe, was a guard, but was the most aggressive player on the court for Marshall and one of the team's best rebounders. The third senior from last year, Morgan McKittrick, missed almost all of the season with a knee injury.
"With Kelli, losing her, I think we're just going to have to bring more energy because she was a big energy provider in practices and in games," Saugstad said. "Then with losing Baker, we're just going to have to find someone who will rebound and be a threat inside."
Using a relentless full-court press that creates havoc for the opposition, Marshall has been able to overcome its lack of size and create plenty of easy baskets off turnovers the past few years. That will again be a big part of what Marshall does this season. But the team still needs players down low who can defend, rebound and occasionally score, and Westby feels he has a crop of players capable of filling those roles.
Five-foot-11 forward Kenzie Beekman is a player Westby says he prefers playing on the perimeter, but will likely have to spend more time inside this year. A long and athletic defender, she had 3.4 steals and nearly six deflections per game last season. She was also the team leader in rebounding and second on the squad in scoring at 12.1 ppg.
At 5-9, senior Sarah Andersen will use her athleticism to try to make up for her lack of height when she plays down low.
"Sarah Andersen isn't big, but she plays big," Westby said. "She works hard and jumps well and is a good defender, and we're going to rely a lot on her inside."
Andersen, who is the only other senior besides Saugstad, said she's looking to bring energy and rebounding to the court this year and hopes her teammates follow suit.
Other players Westby said will provide Marshall depth in the post are 5-11 junior Emma Doyle, 5-10 sophomore Jackie Petrich, 5-9 sophomore Callie Graff and 5-10 freshman Marah Mulso.
When the Tigers don't score as the result of their full-court pressure, the team feels comfortable it can execute well in its half-court offense with some skilled guards. Saugstad and junior Hannah Bennett have both proven to be capable perimeter scorers, while sophomores Sarah Buysse and Morgan Saugstad will look to increase their roles after seeing time on the court last season. Westby said juniors Steph Baker and Jenna Christianson will also see time on the perimeter.
"I think we'll be pretty good (in the half-court offense). Kelsey's a good scorer and we have a lot of good shooters, so I think we'll be OK with that," Beekman said.
Marshall finished the 2011-12 season with a 21-7 overall record and a perfect 12-0 mark in the Southwest Conference. After making it to state in 2010-11, Marshall came up short last year when it lost to a senior-laden Hutchinson team in the Section 2AAA semifinals. Marshall was seeded fourth in that tournament behind Hutchinson, Mankato East and New Prague. While Hutchinson could possibly take a step back as it tries to integrate several new players, Westby said Mankato East and New Prague will again be tough to beat.
"I think this year you'd have to look at Mankato East as the favorite in the section, they've got their good little point guard back and some good size and speed," Westby said. "They've got a little bit of everything. Then it's probably New Prague. It'll be difficult for us to match up with a team like East because of their size, but we'll have to try to find some other ways to score."
Saugstad, Andersen and Beekman each said getting back to state is a realistic goal if the team can make steady improvements throughout the season.
"I think we can (get to state), we just have to keep working hard in practice every day," Saugstad said. "We can't take a day off."