Tanager girls prepare for competitive hoops schedule

Tanager girls prepare for competitive hoops schedule
Coach Jamie Parish took time, after putting his Vermillion Tanagers girls' basketball team though a rapid-paced practice session Nov. 27, to assess the progress that's been made so far.

We're talented, we're very talented. We have kids who are very versatile, and we attribute a lot of that to what the kids do during the summer, he said.

The basic fundamentals of the sport are nothing new to a good number of his players. The official girls basketball season ended in March of 2007 with the Tanagers bringing home the Class A crown from the state tournament.

But that doesn't mean the young women on the Tanager squad ever stopped working to improve their shooting, passing and ball-handling skills.

Basketball, to many of them, is a sport that isn't defined by a season. It is an activity to both enjoy and to master.

We have a lot of kids who can handle the ball for us, Parish said. We have a lot of kids who can shoot the ball.

The coach added that his biggest challenge, late in November with the first home game of the 2007-08 season on Dec. 7, is to combine all of that talent into a cohesive unit.

We're meshing so many different personalities – seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen – that I don't know what the end product is going to be yet, he said. I still don't know how the pieces are going to fit together.

If those young kids are ready to play, and if they are ready to contribute, we could be real difficult to defend, the coach said. We could have a lot of options.

With youth comes less competitive experience on the hardcourt, however.

If they have some growing pains, it could be awhile before we get rolling, Parish said. I like the skills that we have, but we're still trying to come together with a unit of kids, with a group of kids that play together and are all on the same page.

Play hard and play together is a mantra that Parish and assistant coaches Lori Jerred and Nick Mayer constantly express to the Tanager squad.

All one needs to do is watch the girls scrimmage together to know that it is a message they all take to heart.

When split up into 3-on-3, and at times, 5-on-5 squads, they battle each other fiercely.

It's a fighting spirit that Parish knows may not be perfected by the time of the Tanagers' first game. But he hopes it will grow expotentially, getting better and better with each practice session and each competition.

Our kids really do play hard and they compete, he said. Our young kids aren't intimidated by our older kids. They really are competitive, and we really like that. We think it will prepare us more for a game.

We think that those kids getting after each other and competing every single day is the same type of stuff we're going to see in a ball game, he said.

The Tanager squad is rich in experience, having lost only three members of last year's championship team to graduation.

But when you lose three kids, the kids who remain have to fill in new roles on the team, Parish said. So even though we are experienced, we really are inexperienced with our different roles. That's the interesting part right now.

The coach credits the Tanager girls' success on the court to efforts over the years made by local parents to make sure that young girls always had a chance to play.

These parents started a traveling basketball team, and they invited 25 kids, and what we're seeing now – our sophomore class is a good example of that – there is a bunch of kids that have played a lot of basketball, Parish said.

The challenge is to mesh the talents of younger sophomore players with seniors who are playing their final season as a Tanager.

It's definitely a great problem to have. It's definitely a benefit, but it does change the way we coach the game, he said.

Alicia Brown, a senior, is a returning all-state, all-region, and all-conference performer. She is climbing up the charts on several of VHS's career records.

Alicia is a very tough kid to defend; her athleticism makes it difficult to keep her from penetrating to the basket. She also shoots it well from behind the arc and has greatly improved her court vision so that she can drive and dish to open teammates, Parish said.

The Tanagers' perimeter players will be Alexa Walker and Sara Kjose.

Alexa is a player that does all of the little things that our team needs. She can handle the ball, shoots it well and can get to the basket, the coach said. Sara is a very talented shooter who will knock down open shots for us as the season goes on and she gains more confidence.

Parish notes that Walker and Kjose worked hard this past summer perfecting their basketball skills at several camps.

Other players who will be key to the Tanagers' efforts this season include Margo Mueller, a guard who may be asked to contribute in situations that fit her talents, and Rachel Odens and Justine Sorensen, who compete for the post minutes under the basket.

They bring different positives to the floor so each could be played in varying rotations during the year depending on how much they improve and the match-ups, Parish said. Odens and Sorensen worked very hard this summer. Rachel was playing very well until she went down with an ACL injury. We anticipate that she will bounce back and be a contributor during the season as her injury heals.

Justine is a talent that may be ready to take the next step, the coach added.

She saw limited minutes as a sophomore but worked hard and improved greatly this summer in preparation for a larger roll on our team. Brittany Bye also returns to play as a senior.

That talented squad of sophomores Parish mentioned earlier includes Sierra Allen, and Hannah and Sophie Nehlich-Arobba.

They all worked very hard with our varsity players over the summer and started to show some potential tools they could contribute to our team, he said.

During practice, the Tanagers are in the comfortable confines of the VHS gymnasium. They won't have that luxury very often in the next few months.

We will only play six home games this season and will be going into some hostile environments such as Crofton, NE, West Central, Lennox, and Parkston just to name a few, Parish said. Ten of our 19 games are in back-to-back situations; our kids will need to be mentally and physically tough to take the positives from the first night and try to sustain and improve upon them on the second night. We really have our work cut out for us this winter.

The coach believes his team will be a difficult challenge for all opposing teams this season.

We're going to do things differently offensively; we're going to do things differently defensively, Parish said. We're spending a lot more time on transition ? we think we can fast-break the heck out of people because of our athleticism.

If we can rebound, we'll be able to run, he added. I've never had 12 kids that can run up and down the court and get up and down the floor like I have this year. If we can solid up our defense and rebound, we'll really be able to get up and down in transition.

The Tanager girls likely will encounter taller opponents this season.'

We don't have a lot of size defensively, the coach said, so we're going to have to do things that use our foot speed. We're going to see if we can cause some turnovers, we're going to double-team – what we want to do is cause the other team problems.

Parish knows his team is still a work in progress. Everything won't be perfected by the time the season starts. It's a process that takes time.

We're not going to have everything the way that we want it until Christmas, he said. We know that we're going to go into those games before Christmas without having worked on something offensively, or without having worked on something defensively.

We feel we want to do things the right way, he said, and keep improving.

We want to be playing our best basketball in February, and our big goal is we want to be playing in March. If you win a couple games in February, and you're playing in March, that means you're going to a state tournament, he said.

Parish said he wouldn't be surprised if this year's team is constantly referred to by other teams and by sports media as defenders of the 2007 state championship crown.

Everybody else will use that description, but we're not going to use that, he said. The terminology that we've been using with our girls is you get to be state champion forever. If these kids quit playing basketball tomorrow, there are still state championships.

Instead of trying to defend something, we want to go get another one, Parish said. Defending makes you passive, it makes you try to protect things and it takes away your aggressiveness.

The Tanagers, he said, are setting their goals on smaller, but vitally important goals. Like a district championship, followed by a region championship.

We're setting our goals on trying to win another district, and then to win another region, he said.

You've got to set your goals small, Parish said. The big thing that we want to put into our kids' heads is that we're not defending anything. We just want to move forward and make progress from here.

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