Added Team Depth Raises Expectations
By Robert Campbell | LB Indy
Jon Hendrickson inherited a girls basketball team at Laguna Beach High in 2007 that had lost 31 straight games, including all 26 the previous season. The program was suffering through an identity crisis that had sent girls fleeing to other more popular sports, leaving the coach with barely enough players to field one team, let alone JV or frosh/soph squads.
In an effort to combat slumping player morale and reverse the program’s negative culture, the first year coach told his players, “we’re just going to compete; we’re not going to worry about wins and losses.”
Hendrickson said the girls adopted a “32-minutes-of-hell” mantra that has kept them battling to the end of each game. “While the wins and losses haven’t taken care of themselves the last couple of years, we can hold our heads up high knowing we played our best.”
Last Tuesday at the Corona del Mar Tournament, Hendrickson embarked on his fourth campaign with 17 girls, all eager to win back some respect for their sport at a school where hitting a white ball over a net is far more revered than tossing an orange ball through one.
Only five of the 17 played on last year’s team that finished fourth in Orange Coast League play: senior and first team all-league guard Emily Writer, senior and second team all-league center Samantha Garner, junior forward Holly Battle, and sophomore guards Lola Cowie and Madeline Knutson.
Writer and Garner were on the floor for most of every game last season and accounted for 73 percent of their team’s points. Those two will most likely still shoulder the bulk of the scoring load, but the improved skills and increased confidence Battle and Cowie have shown in practice has their coach excited about their potential.
“Holly does all the little things that don’t necessarily show up in a box score,” said Hendrickson of Battle’s defensive play and ability to get key rebounds and set screens.
“Lola’s going to be up there more than she was last year in points and assists,” the coach added.
Hendrickson will look to Cowie to take over for Writer at point guard from time to time. “We feel very confident in her ability to run our offense,” the coach said. “The more rest we can give [Writer] and keep her out of foul trouble, the better we’re going to be in the fourth quarter.”
Of the 12 newcomers—seven freshmen, three sophomores and two juniors—five will fill out the varsity roster while the remaining seven will form a frosh/soph squad and play their own slate of games.
At 5’10” freshman Jane Wallin is one of the more intriguing additions to Hendrickson’s program. She will probably start and should provide some rebounding help for Garner under the basket. “She’s a little raw, obviously, but you can’t teach height,” he said. “It’s going to be good to have her this year and the next three years.”
Kylie Even, a sophomore transfer who as a freshman played for her former school in Las Vegas, has shown some good skills in practice. “She’s definitely going to help us,” said Hendrickson. “She will probably be our sixth man.”
The experience of juniors Diana Necular and Kenzie McMillan, along with the athleticism of freshman Mandi Wisbaum, will give Laguna some added punch coming off the bench. “Whereas before we’ve had a very short bench, I think we’ll be a little deeper this year because of those girls,” said Hendrickson.
He concedes that Godinez and Estancia will probably battle it out for the league title. But the coach expects his team to grow and gel and be good enough to secure a CIF playoff spot. They might even contend for a league title. “I think that we’re going to make a good run, he said. “We have the right experience and a deep enough bench to surprise some people,” he said.