There's something to be said about starting out a new season against tough opponents and the way it prepares a team for its upcoming schedule.
The Alpena Community College women's basketball team will start its season at 5:30 p.m., tonight facing Kalamazoo Valley in the East/West Classic. The Lumberjacks began last season with a matchup against the Cougars and lost 78-39.
The Cougars are ranked 12th in the nation and have already won a handful of games.
News Photo by Eric Benac
The 2013-14 Alpena Community College women’s basketball team is: Megan Barkley, Courtney Holmes, Mary Myers, Sandy Bischoff, Whitney Frazier, Kayla Shephard, Sarah Kolb, Anna Carrick, Ashleigh Monticello, Mychi Schumaker, Amy Nowak, Alleigh Sexton and Emily Nowak.
"I'm hoping we start out really well and carry it throughout the season. We're gonna be a stronger defensive team, so hopefully we carry that out throughout the game," ACC guard Whitney Frazier said.
Coach Bobby Allen has a solid group of returning sophomores and freshmen that are looking to improve on last year's 6-22 record.
"Going down to Kalamazoo Valley is going to be a learning experience for the ladies. Talent wise, it's going to be extremely high. But, I don't expect them to back down. We all put our shirts and jerseys on the same way, so we're just going down there to play, have some fun and play to win," he said.
Although Allen hasn't quite hashed out a starting line up, his sophomores are likely to see a big boost in minutes compared to their freshmen year.
Returning sophomores include Frazier, Emily Nowak, Amy Nowak, Alleigh Sexton and Ashleigh Monticello.
Freshmen for the team include Alpena's Megan Barkley and Mychi Schumaker. Other freshmen include Courtney Holmes, Mary Myers, Sandy Bischoff, Sarah Kolb and Anna Carrick.
These freshmen will look to the experienced sophomores for leadership during the Kalamazoo matchup and throughout the season.
"Megan will be great, once she gets to understand her role is defense and gets how to set up her teammates as a freshmen. Playing point guard in this league is tough. Mychi, she can be a good defender, but she's just got to understand the game a little bit more. My freshmen are really hungry to play and hungry to learn," Allen said.
The Lumberjacks are going to need that kind of hunger against a team like Kalamazoo Valley. The Cougars finished in first place in the Western Conference last year and lost only five games.
Though the Cougars have a player like 6-3 Kayla Baxter and several other tall players in the frontcourt, Alpena matches up fairly well. Sexton is 6-0 and the Lumberjacks have three girls who are 5-11.
"They're going to have a lot more experience than us, but I think we're going to be a strong defensive team this year, so hopefully we'll give them a run there," Frazier said.
The Lumberjacks can depend on the skill of Holmes for a boost. Holmes also played for the ACC volleyball team this season. She will work best as a fast-paced point guard, opening up scoring opportunities for her team.
"Courtney, I think she'll bring some toughness to our team. She played with the volleyball team last year and she's a tough girl, real athletic," Allen said.
The interaction between newly minted freshmen players and the more seasoned sophomores creates a competitive atmosphere. The sophomores don't want the freshmen players to show them up, but know they have to serve as models both on and off the court.
"You can't talk down to (the freshmen). They don't react well if you do. You have to talk to them like your equals, which I always do," Emily Nowak said.
Trying to find the balance between experienced sophomores and eager freshmen gives Allen a unique opportunity to try new approaches and attacks with his team. He noted an increase in player eagerness this year, something that has him excited for the potential of this year's team.
"They want to learn, they are doing stuff to get better. They come in on their own, work out and practice their shooting. Those are the kinds of things I like to see as a coach. If you demand things, you get it half done. But, when they come in and do it on their own, that tells you something about the team," Allen said.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.