Injuries, adversity not slowing down charging Lady Rams
Jan 27, 2017 15h48
By Travis Barton
Junior Sini Fifita shoots during a drill at practice on Jan. 16. Fifita has struggled with a knee injury, but has returned to form at the turn of the year. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
After losing three of its first five games to start the season, the Highland High girls basketball team reeled off seven straight wins. Through Jan. 26 for a 10-4 (5-1 in region) record.
The winning streak came despite missing several key players to injuries or family commitments.
“We’ve had our challenges,” said second-year head coach Kurt Schneider. “There’s always things that disrupt (a team), but you want your best girls on the floor and we’ve struggled with that all year.”
It has included junior Sini Fifita missing time with a knee injury, freshman Kaija Glasker with a sprained ankle and junior Lana Olevao suffering a concussion as well as traveling to Hawaii for a family funeral.
“The consistency and continuity hasn’t always been there, but they’ve been winning,” Schneider said. That includes a victory over region rival and defending state champion Bountiful, where the Rams were losing by eight with four minutes to play.
“Going up to Bountiful without Lana, that’s a tough place to play…just the grit and not willing to give up,” Schneider said.
A natural consequence of playing without their full arsenal all season has possibly been a blessing in disguise. Schneider said playing girls in unfamiliar positions has helped the team’s flexibility to varying game situations.
“Injuries happen. You just never know and to be able to insert somebody in and know you’re not going to lose much is a big thing as far as being able to compete at a high level,” Schneider said.
It has become Olevao’s favorite thing about the team.
“We’re versatile. We could put Kaija at point (guard) and she could come down to the post or we could put Sini at post. Our guards can post, our posts could play forwards and shoot. I just like our versatility,” Olevao said.
Flexibility within the team has created a balance that manufactures chances for each other, making it more difficult for teams to prepare for them.
“It’s really nice, we’re really well-rounded,” said senior Alex Debow, an all-around contributor for the team. “All of our averages are within the same few points…It’s not just scoring, it’s the chemistry with our passing and everything we do.”
Interestingly, their offense is the area the team needs to improve the most. The Rams stingy defense only surrenders 36 points per game.
Debow credited her coach for implementing their defensive schemes because “he knows our strengths and puts them to our advantage.”
“We try to take pride in that. I make sure the girls understand that we’re always going to have an opportunity (to win),” Schneider said. He estimates the team gets about 11 steals per game.
“We’re always ready to go (on defense) it’s one of our strong points being long and lanky,” Debow said.
Schneider said that kind of defense gives them at least 11 extra opportunities to score whether it is giving them more shots or gifting them more chances for transition layups.
“If we can make our layups it makes a huge difference in increasing the lead or keeping (the opposition) right there with us,” Schneider said. “It’s about making sure we capitalize on all of our opportunities as opposed to 20 to 30 percent of them.”
Having tied for the region championship a year ago, the Rams have the potential to become first team in Highland history to go back-to-back region champs.
“We’ll have to work for it and I think I have the group of girls who can do it,” Schneider said.
Players are confident that if the team fulfills its potential, it could mean a run at the state title.
“I feel like we can if we stay mentally strong and physically strong,” Olevao said.
Debow added, “As long as we keep on working as hard as we have been, we could definitely go really far this year. I think it’s going to be a good year.”
The Rams next home game will be at 5:15 p.m. on Feb. 3 at Highland High School.