BLANCHARD — When he saw the competitiveness between two of his basketball players escalate to almost an all-out scuffle during a recent practice, Terry Larsen was liking what he was seeing.
“I’ve got two juniors battling for the same position,” said the sixth-year Montabella girls varsity basketball coach about juniors Zoey Helmer and Lauryn Wisner. “They’re best friends. But I’ve had them almost as blows here on the court, each one of them fighting for that starting spot. I love seeing that fire. Those two are taking it seriously, and that’s what I told the team.”
Fire is one thing Larsen is hoping his Mustangs team has a lot of as the new girls basketball season gets underway for Montabella Friday against Merrill.
“I’m excited to see if they can blend together as well as I think they can,” Larsen said.
Last year, the Mustangs finished 9-12, having battled a few injuries that possibly robbed them of more victories. This year, the team lost some height and seniors (six graduated last year), but senior point guard Madi Cutler believes this year’s team are more versatile and quicker and believes the Mustangs can make a run at the Mid-State Activities Conference (MSAC).
“We lost two really tall girls from last year, that’s going to hurt us a little bit. But we had two juniors that came in and we’ve been working really hard with them on like posts and other things, so they’ve been getting better so I’m expecting good progress throughout the year,” said Cutler, a four-year varsity player. “Definitely, one of our strengths is that we have four seniors who are going to lead us. I also think we are a faster team this year, we have a lot of girls that are willing to run.”
Anyone watching this year’s Mustangs team practice can see all the players are tight-knit and enjoy playing together. That, too, should be one of the Mustangs’ biggest strengths this year, said both Larsen and Cutler.
“We get along very well. We have fun but yet we’re like, OK, we gotta be serious,” Cutler said about her team. “I think we could definitely make a run in the league, for sure. I think that is something we really should work hard towards.”
The Mustangs have four seniors on the team — Madi Cutler, Hannah and Kendra Stockwell, Lexi McQueen, with Cutler expected to lead as the field general of the team.
“Madi, without a doubt, is our anchor. She can pretty much do everything,” Larsen said. “She’ll come close to leading us in rebounds, too. She’s just very smart when it comes to the game of basketball.”
Larsen is hoping the amount of experience his seniors have can help this year’s team overcome its weaker areas. One area he aims to improve is cutting down on turnovers.
“That’s our biggest goal, to try and cut those down dramatically,” he said. “No ‘maybe passes,’ as we call it, for example. We have short- and long-range goals, but the biggest one is turnovers. We limit them, we should win.”
With Sacred Heart and Carson City-Crystal, which won its first game Tuesday against Central Montcalm, being the favorites to lead the MSAC, the Mustangs are confident they can compete with the best.
“I think we have just as good a chance as anybody does right now, so I’d like to have a good run at that,” Larsen said.
Montabella will host Merrill Friday, which starts at 7:30 p.m.