PUNXSUTAWNEY — With three starters gone from a team that played just five or six players nearly every game last year, the Punxsy girls' basketball team is concentrating on working hard to improve with new faces expected to play vital roles this season.
Gone are Amber Fye and Megan McCully, who each graduated this past June. Also, senior Hannah Neal — last year's leading scorer at 12.0 points per game — isn't playing this season, meaning seniors Shawnna Crago and Jenna Reitz are this year's only returning starters.
Seniors Lindsey Paulina and Parris Kernich were the only girls Punxsy head coach Randy Reitz depended on off the bench last season, but the team is hoping for more out of those two and seniors Justine Kaza and Kaitlyn Nestel.
The big thing right now is providing the girls who didn't play much varsity ball last year enough reps in practice. That'll be especially important for Kaza, Nestel and Kernich, who are expected to play some or all of their minutes inside the paint.
"Hard work, timing and basic fundamentals are probably the three things we've really tried to focus on in the last week-and-a-half since the preseason started," Randy Reitz said. "We have a couple kids that are learning to play the low post, and they're coming. They just have to keep working and learning from the kids that know the low post."
While he may experiment with four guards to complement Crago, coach Reitz expects to feature a normal starting five, saying, "We will maybe eventually play four guards with one big as the season goes on, but right now, we're going with the basic three guards and two bigs.
"We do have some depth at the guard level (with juniors Alex Magill and Johnna Depp), and we'll have depth at the forward and center once Parris and Kate learn that. It's new to them, and it's going to take a few weeks," he said.
After Neal, Punxsy's next two scorers from last year remain this season — Reitz and Crago. They're expected to provide most of the offense, but team defense is something that coach Reitz always stresses, and this year will be no different.
"We're going to have to play solid defense. We do have a little bit of size with Justine and Shawnna, so that helps us underneath," Reitz said. "We have to do a good job of stopping dribble penetration to keep those kids out of foul trouble, since we're not real deep as far as having big people on the back line."
While some of Punxsy's 2010-2011 starters may not have much varsity experience, they have shown the work ethic to get better.
"They're working hard, and they're coming along," Reitz said. "We just have to continue to work on fundamentals and skills and work hard in practice."