Fab freshmen add depth
Everyone associated with last year’s Forest Lake Christian girls basketball team knew the little school tucked away among the pine trees would have a festive 2002.
The Lady Falcons, who made school history twice last season with a Central Valley Christian League co-championship and a trip to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V finals, had four returning starters and a gaggle of players with varsity experience.
“Last year we got to the section championship, really about seven deep. But we were limited in that out of that seven, we had kids who only played certain positions,” said FLC head coach Rob Hodges.
If the second-year head coach wanted more depth this year, he hit the jackpot.
FLC (16-1 overall, 6-0 CVCL) has won 14-straight games, thanks in part to the addition of five fabulous freshmen.
Hodges’ daughter, Brooke, who went into Friday’s game with Sacramento Country Day leading the team in points per game (11.1) and three-point percentage (47 percent), along with Sachi Botner (8.3 points per game and 3.2 assists per game), Tracy Malone (8.2 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game), Lindsay Hayward (9.9 rebounds per game and 6.3 points per game) and Ciara Witzke (4.2 points per game and 1.9 rebounds per game) have played beyond their years this season.
While Hayward, at 6-foot, 8-inch – no, that’s not a misprint – spends all of her time in the paint, the other four can fill in a variety of spots.
“Brooke is a natural point, but can play at two guard. Tracy can play one through four. Sachi is 5-11 and plays three through five, but with her ball handling skills, I’m perfectly comfortable with her bringing the ball up. And Ciara can play at both guards and at three,” Hodges said. “Their versatility (is incredible).”
Hayward, in her first year of any athletic competition, has already received attention from some big-time college basketball programs.
“She’s received letters from Michigan, Hawaii, Cal State – Northridge and Cal-Berkeley and what’s so funny is she doesn’t even know that’s a big deal. That’s how little she knows about the game. But she’s awesome to coach for that reason, because I tell her to do something and she does it,” coach Hodges said.
Brooke Hodges, Botner, Witzke, Hayward and Malone may be freshmen, but years of off-season experience made the transition to the high school level less bumpy.
“It was easier because there are a lot of us who played AAU before,” Botner said. “It didn’t seem like that big of a jump.”
Basketball aside, it had to be tough for a group of 13- and 14-year-olds to come into an already established section powerhouse.
“There was a little bit of pressure knowing all of these seniors are very experienced. I knew I had to work just as hard, if not harder, if I wanted to contribute,” Malone said. “But all of the girls were very (supportive). They welcomed us and made us feel like we were a part of the team from the beginning.”
Lady Falcon seniors Katelyn Gilfillan and Braeden Huusfeldt didn’t let the ages of their newest teammates stand in the way of team goals.
“They seem like one of us. They seem like seniors. Rob’s trained (most of) them since they were in fifth grade and because of that, they fit in really well,’ Gilfillan said. “To get as far as we want to get, we have to have unity. Any divisiveness between the seniors and the freshmen doesn’t work.”
Huusfeldt, who along with Gilfillan, broke into the varsity as freshmen, remembered her first varsity basketball practice and was determined not repeat the mistakes of that crop of upperclassmen.
“It was scary. We didn’t play summer ball with (the team that year) so we didn’t know any of the seniors. And it wasn’t like the seniors came and say ‘Hi’ to the freshmen. It was like the seniors were here, and the freshmen were over there,” Huusfeldt said. “I’ve seen it from both sides now and I can see how it could be like that.”
“But the big thing is to get over that because to accomplish our goals, we have to be one in Christ and together as a team. Each person, freshman, sophomore, senior, brings so much to the team. We couldn’t replace anyone on our team.”
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The Little League District 11 postseason is off to a hot start.