BELDING — For the Belding’s girls basketball team, it’s not just a new coach the players are getting accustomed to.
Connor Hoke, 25, spent the past four years with the Lowell Red Arrows boys varsity basketball program, where he learned the strategy of basketball’s full-court press defense, which is one of Belding’s newest looks Hoke’s new team is learning.
“I think it’s great. I’m used to that kind of pace with travel ball,” said three-year varsity player and senior Hallee Breimayer. “I like the up-tempo pace. I think it’s something we still need to work at, but we’re doing pretty well at it, so far.”
In his first crack as varsity head coach, Hoke, a Byron Center native, is implementing a fast-paced game plan on both sides of the ball to make up for the team’s lack of height. Hoke believes his players are adapting well to his philosophy and game plan.
“We’re not very big. With that, we’re learning to always play a fast, up-tempo style, where we attack early and often,” Hoke said. “With the full-court press, we can cause steals and havoc, keep attacking and attacking, getting the other team tired and force them into making mistakes.”
Along with Breimayer, Hoke’s leaders on the team include Olivia Stephens, Summer Eubank and Emily Byrnes. He is hoping those players will help begin a new era of Belding girls basketball.
Though the team is 3-5, Hoke believes it won’t be long until his team starts turning things around.
“The girls weren’t used to man-to-man defense or full press. It’s a big change to them and they’re still getting used to it,” Hoke said. “It’s going to take a bit, but I think when we get into conference play, we’ll get better and better.”
Hoke and his players know that, with a new system, there is bound to be a few mistakes and a learning curve. But, so far, Hoke’s players have fought through mistakes and kept battling. One obstacle Hoke is trying to overcome is finding more scoring support for Breimayer, who has been Belding’s No. 1 offensive weapon this season.
“We’d like to find another consistent scorer and not rely so heavily on Hallee,” Hoke said.
Breimayer said teammates like Stephens and junior Lexi Pilkinton have really stepped up this year. She credits Hoke for getting the team more unified.
“After practice, coach works on a lot of team building and team bonding,” Breimayer said. “It’s brought us together more. I like it.”
The opportunity for his first chance at coaching a varsity basketball team couldn’t have been at a better place, according to Hoke, who filled former coach Brad Wilson’s position.
“When I was looking at options for an open position for coaching, I knew Belding was always a well-established program,” Hoke said. “And the facility and school here is beautiful. I’m absolutely happy to have the opportunity of having my first head coaching job here.”
Belding Athletic Director Joel Wilker has liked the enthusiasm and preparedness his new girls basketball coach has brought to the program.
“Connor is always very prepared and is a dedicated worker,” Wilker said. “Also, for a new head coach, I am impressed that he recognizes the need to adjust certain things to get the most out of his team.”