The Litchfield girls basketball team lost nearly 20 points per game with the graduation of Laney Huhner and Maddy Shoultz.
The 2019-2020 team still has a fair amount of its core returning with Sydney McCann and Neriah Lara, but first-year head coach Ian Anderson said that he’s looking more contributions will come from not just top players, but from players new to varsity.
“The junior class will really have to step up this year,” Anderson said. “Basically it will be a trial by fire. For a lot of them, this will be their first experience getting varsity action.”
Anderson hopes the Dragons will learn fast, because they have to. It will be a steep learning curve, and the style they want to play will force them to make quick decisions.
Anderson, an assistant under former head coach Shannon Walters, said he wants to take the things that worked with Walters, but try to implement some new things to fit modern basketball. Anderson described the style he wants to play as “pace and space.” It involves having a guard drive the lane looking for a shot at the rim, and kicking the ball out for the open shot if the layup is not there.
“We want to play with pace and make teams go up-and-down,” Anderson said. “We think we are long and athletic, and we want to get good shots.”
One of the strengths of the team will be their inside presence. Anderson said that Katelyn Cruze has put in a ton of work over the summer to become a top option for the Dragons. Even though they lost their top two scorers, the Dragons still have plenty of experience returning. McCann and Lara will both get more opportunities at the guard spot. Another thing going for the team is the camaraderie.
“The majority of us have been playing together for the past two or three years,” Lara said. “So we’re pretty familiar with everyone. We did lose a couple, but I think it will be pretty easy to fill those spots.”
Depth is seen as a strength by players. Even though they have some younger players, the veterans believe that they all can contribute.
“We have a pretty deep team,” Morgan Kaping said. “We have a range of players that can do a lot of things, that’ll help us have a lot of quick subs. We’ll have a lot of people on the court.”
One big thing Anderson wants to change is the lethargic start to games that was common last year, when the Dragons found themselves down early and had to fight their way back into games.
“I think we need to start games with a little more energy,” Anderson said. “A lot of times we would start behind. Part of that has to do with scheduling. Traditionally, we’ve played Eden Valley(-Watkins) and Hutchinson away, which are two very difficult games. I think we need to be consistent no matter who we play. We’re going to play our style and we’re going to do it the best we possibly can.”
Last year, the Dragons started 10-3, but they went 5-7 over their next 12 games to finish in a four-team tie for fourth place in the Wright County Conference. They squeaked out a one-point win over Benson in the section tournament to advance to play rival New London-Spicer. New London-Spicer dominated the season series, outscoring Litchfield by 15 and 41 in the two games. But the Dragons wouldn’t be deterred as they pulled off a 41-39 upset.
“They’ve been a challenge for us the past I don’t know how many years,” Lara said. “But we did beat them in the playoffs last year, so that’s a big thing that we have. We just want to beat them again.”
Litchfield lost to Eden Valley-Watkins in the section semifinals, but Anderson believes that this year’s team is capable of making a run in sections.
“That’s always the goal,” Anderson said. “It’s never easy in our section. We just got to get better every day and improve and make sure the girls have fun. I think if they have fun, we’ll keep getting better and we’ll be a really tough team at the end of the year.”
The Dragons opens the season at home Tuesday against at Morris Area. Litchfield has defeated Morris in nine straight games leading up to the opener.
“We’re excited to get going,” Anderson said. “We think there’s a lot of potential in the program right now. We’re hoping to build off the success of the end of the year run last year and set ourselves as a consistently successful program.”