Optimism with experience is running high these days for the Highland girls’ basketball team.
Highland coach Clint Hamilton has six players back in the fold from last year’s 26-8 that advanced to the Taylorville Class 3A super-sectional championship game in February.
“We’ve got six kids that saw a lot of varsity time last year and a lot of teams can’t really say that we bring that many varsity minutes back, so that should be an advantage for us that we’ve got kids that are seasoned, so definitely bringing the kids back should be a luxury for us,” Hamilton said.
Senior post Larissa Taylor, senior point guard Lauren Maas, senior forward-guard Abby Schultz, sophomore guard Jordan Biercher, sophomore Sophie Schroeder, and junior Sophia Fleming comprise the core of the Bulldogs roster.
“We return a lot of kids and our biggest thing is going to be figuring out how to replace Grace’s shooting and her game I definitely think we have the kids to do it but we might do it a little bit differently this year,” Hamilton said.
Replacing Grace Wilke’s 14.8 points per game will be a big item for HHS since Wilke has moved on to college at the University of Kentucky.
Taylor, who averaged 9.9 points per game as a junior, is ready to step in and help fill the void this season.
“I think I’ll have to step up from last year offensive-wise and just get more comfortable scoring around the basket and out in the perimeter too, Taylor said. I think if I look to score more this year and know that I can make the shots, and score more points, I should be able to do it.”
Other players who are expected to contribute coming off the bench are junior guard Payton Frey, junior guard Sidney Coziar, and junior forward Paige Kleiboeker.
Highland spent the early part of the summer playing 20-plus games against teams from Missouri, Illinois, and Arkansas. That experience helped prepare the Bulldogs for the rigors of the regular season and in-season tournaments.
“We played athletic teams and teams that we’ve never seen before and we didn’t watch film on them so we just had to go and play And I think we did good with that,” Taylor said. It helped us against teams that we’ll play in tournaments we’ve never seen before like the Visitation Tournament. We’ve never played those teams before, so I think that (the summer games) will help.”
Hamilton believes this group can have another deep playoff run this winter if it stays consistent and hungry from game to game.
“Coming off a sectional (championship), everybody in the conference knows what we return but as long as we take care of what we take care of, we’ll put ourselves in a position to win most nights,” Hamilton said.
Taylor is looking forward to getting the season started. “I’m excited and really looking forward to it,” Taylor said. Looking forward to getting to the games and pushing past the first two weeks because it is all practice right now and I’m just looking forward to that game on Thursday.”
Highland opens the season on Thursday in Centralia at 7:30 p.m. against Centralia in the first round of the Centralia Tournament.