At 13-2, the Bear River girls basketball squad is off to another hot start and appears to be all geared up for another exciting season with Pioneer Valley League play just on the horizon.
Already, the Lady Bruins have turned heads with some impressive tournament wins, including victories over Folsom (D-I) and Del Oro (D-II). Not to mention, all of the squad’s wins have come by double digits.
Led by a strong corps of seniors, the team looks to go far. Kaitlyn Reina and Teryn Rath bring physicality to the game in the post, Lauren Runte sets up the offense and also poses as a clutch shooting threat, Maddi Dunn is on the prowl, quick to the ball, wreaking havoc, and Jenn Alberts offers a 3-point shot that could very well crush the hopes of any opponent.
“I’d like to see them have a chance to win a league championship and a chance to go to the section final,” said head coach Jeff Bickmore. “A lot of the seniors have played together, and this is the last year of it. (This season), we basically just exchanged a couple of guards. Lauren (Runte) was MVP of our first tournament. She’s a really good leader on the court.”
Runte, taking over the point guard position after Cindy Solomon graduated, recently stepped up big in the Lady Bruins’ most recent win, their home opener versus Oakmont Jan. 6. She was deadly on the offensive end, shooting 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. For the season, she’s knocked down 47 percent of her 3s and averages 7.4 points per game. As the starting guard, the senior knows the importance of everyone involved.
“We’re one unit,” said Runte. “We’re learning how each other plays more so we can get ready for league. My passing is probably my best (attribute).”
Most of the scoring has come from seniors Reina and Rath as the dynamic duo is all about intensity all of the time. Either backing their way in, flying to the hoop in transition or outmaneuvering a defender with a quick turn and lay in off the glass, they consistently find ways to get it done down low.
“I definitely want to win (league) and get back to Arco,” said Reina, who leads her team in scoring with an average of 13.7 points per game. “It’s different this year because we’re closer as friends. We don’t get offended when someone has some (constructive criticism). We go out to lunch, hang out at each other’s houses and keep a close bond. The closer we are off the court, the better we’ll do on the court.”
Rath has also been a huge part of Bear River’s success and leads the team in rebounds with 9.1 per game, including 3.8 on the offensive end. She has also averaged 9.6 points per game. Her mere presence in the paint might require multiple defenders at times, which often opens things up for the rest of the team.
“We have a really good team,” Rath said. “I’m excited for us. We have a lot of good guards and posts — it’s evenly balanced. It’s real nice to be in there and do your job. I’m a pretty good rebounder. My goal is to get 10 per game.”
There’s also a new face on the sideline this season for Bear River, and with the new addition to the coaching staff, the team now has a little extra help, which could be the difference when it matters most.
“Dan Hicks was the varsity coach at Colfax, then he coached at Lincoln, and now he’s assisting us,” said Merlin Elders, Bear River assistant coach. “I’ve been coaching with Jeff for seven years, so it’s another set of eyes and new perspective with offense and defense. We’re going to keep everyone else guessing.”
And according to coach Bickmore, the new insight is much appreciated and already beginning to pay off.
“I’ve coached against Hicks many years,” said Bickmore. “With anybody new, it takes awhile, but the girls realize he’s a good coach helping to make them better.”
The 2012-2013 version of the Lady Bruins (26-5, 8-2 Pioneer Valley League) won a share of the PVL title with Colfax. The squad then advanced all the way to the Sac-Joaquin D-IV championship game with victories over Hilmar, Dixon and Argonaut before losing to Bradshaw Christian in the title game. As runner up, Bear River also advanced to the CIF state bracket, where it was knocked out in the second round. The Lady Bruins averaged 56.5 points per game and shot 38 percent from the floor, while allowing 34.8 points per game.
“Last year, we shot the ball particularly well,” added Bickmore. “We’re not weak in any spot, but obviously we think we can get better.”
Now with five starting seniors and an experienced bench, featuring depth with senior Michelle Taylor and up-and-coming talent, the sky’s the limit. Everyone has been contributing — from juniors Michelle Whiting, Taylor Autrey and Malone Pearson to sophomores Savannah Wirth and Kaely Rath. Whiting leads the bench in scoring with 53 points, followed by Wirth with 42 and Taylor with 28.
“We’re all athletic kids,” said Taylor. “We’re all willing to work hard.”
Others on the team felt the same way, and the fact that they’ve been playing together for a long time has proven key to the girls’ hopes for the season.
“The camaraderie is better this year,” said senior Maddie Dunn. “There’s less drama. We look to push it right away and hit ’em hard while we can. We all kind of take charge. I wouldn’t say one person leads us. There’s a lot of potential. I’m more of a defensive player, so my goal is to hold their best scorers to as little points as possible.”
The task of winning the top spot in the PVL certainly isn’t going to be easy. Currently, Bear River’s 13-2 preseason record is slightly better than Colfax (11-3), and both Lincoln (9-5) and Placer (9-6) are showing they aren’t going to go down without a fight.
“We want to go further,” said Alberts. “We’ll make it a good year and a fun experience at the same time. Everybody is supportive, cheering us on, really getting into the game.”
The Lady Bruins have one last preseason game Tuesday at Will C. Wood, and then open league play by hosting Placer Friday.
To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, call 530-477-4234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.