Next week, girls from Moffat County’s girls basketball teams will head to their final summer camps at the University of Wyoming and University of Northern Colorado, and after that they will be on their own until the winter sports season begins.
Unless something drastically changes the team’s outlook like an injury, it will be the most in-the-dark head coach Matt Ray has ever felt about his team exiting the summer season.
Ray and the Bulldogs had the luxury of relying on seven seniors last year, who came into the 2012-13 season with lots of varsity experience and synergy on the court together. That made last summer an especially easy one for a coach, as Ray knew who to put on the court in varsity games and mostly what he would be getting from players.
This year’s team, while still possessing plenty of talent, also comes with much more uncertainty. With less experience at the varsity level, Ray isn’t sure what his team will look like yet because he has seen good and bad from a variety of players.
“I really don’t know who are going to be my top kids come winter time,” Ray said. “Last year, I had the top seven and knew that’s who varsity was going to be. This year, we’ve mixed and matched lineups, moved girls around.”
But while he’s used to having more knowledge about his roster by this time of the year, the openings in almost every spot have created competition across the board during the Bulldogs’ 30 games this summer, Ray said.
“The kids have really made my decision hard, which is great for the team,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition. At times it’s frustrating because you think one girl’s coming along, but then she’ll have a tough stretch or somebody else will step up and do even better.”
Only incoming seniors Jazmine Swindler and Allie Ehlers came off the bench to play significant minutes for last year’s varsity team. Several others played at the end of the games Moffat County had in hand, but they are catching competition from underclassmen who want varsity spots as well.
“The seniors were more intimidating last year because there were a lot of them,” said incoming sophomore Kaitlyan Reed. “There were no spots to be taken but this year there are lots of spots open.”
Reed is part of a large group of sophomore girls who split time on the freshman and JV team last season looking to make the leap to major varsity playing time. Incoming junior Katelyn Peroulis is part of a group that started or played big minutes for JV and dressed on the varsity team who are looking to stay ahead.
Peroulis doesn’t see that as a problem, though.
“We’re a young team and there’s a lot of good younger girls that can definitely step up, so that pushes the older girls to do better,” she said. “It’s more motivational pressure. It’s not do or die, but you have to work hard and earn your spot. It’s not just going to be given to you.”
Along with the constant lineup changes has come more difficulty in the games the Bulldogs have played so far at camps in Montrose and Parachute, but the players know it will take time for them to mesh as teammates. Learning where they fit in, how to play together and seeing the next level of competition is what summer basketball is all about, though.
“We try to make sure the kids know where they’re at,” Ray said. “If we need a skill, they know what they need to work on. It’s important to know where they fit in. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but in the summer we’re trying to figure that out so when winter comes we know which path to take.”
Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 970-875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org