Andes basketball preview: Head coach looking for defensive aggressiveness from young girls' squad

By Julia Green
“It’s funny, on paper we’re not that young,” said Head Coach Jeff Rhone of his Andes girls’ varsity basketball team. “But in terms of experience, we’re very young.”
In terms of numbers, however, Rhone has the biggest squad he’s had at Andes, with a roster of 14. Five players from last year’s squad return, three of whom were starters for the Mountaineers, who won three games last year.
“We have three captains, Hope Egnaczak, Karli Tait and Rachel Andrews,” Rhone said. “Karli and Rachel both played AAU in the off season, and I feel like they’ve really stepped up their game in a lot of ways.”
Egnaczak is the Mountaineers’ lone senior and, along with junior Karli Tait and sophomore Gina Tait, is one of last year’s three starters. Andrews started a number of games early in the season before suffering a knee injury.
Rhone anticipates that Andrews and Karli Tait will serve primarily as post players, while Gina Tait and seventh-grader Mariah Ruff will be splitting the point guard position as well as playing the off-guard.
While he said it is early in the season to identify his team’s strengths and weaknesses, Rhone believes that one asset exists in his team’s ability to move the ball.
“That’s certainly a strength,” he said. “But we don’t have one specific area of the game that we’re incredibly talented with. Right now we’re OK at a lot of different things.”
Rhone said he would like to see his players develop their ability to score in the open floor, and added that he has a number of players who are still learning fundamentals of the game.
“I hope, with time, I’ll be able to use them more,” he said. “That would certainly make us deeper.”
On the flip side, Rhone acknowledged a potential weakness in his team’s ability to understand that “every possession counts.”
“We just don’t get that yet,” he said. “This early on, there are so many things to emphasize. I will be emphasizing that more, but it will be easier to see when comparing the number of turnovers. It just comes with experience.”
Rhone added that he likes to play aggressive defense, and that he’d like to see his girls run the floor and get some easy looks in the open court.
“That’s my style, though I don’t know that at this point our ball-handling skills are quite there yet, but that’s something that I think over the course of the season could happen and should happen.
“Flat out, I want them to be just pests on defense. I want my girls to have two or three fouls at the end of the game, and have burns on their arms and legs from diving for the ball. Flat out aggressiveness on the floor – they’ve never had to do that. Before, they conserved energy and held back because of our low numbers. Now we don’t have to do that. I want them to play hard.”
In terms of goals for the upcoming season, Rhone, who is in his second full year coaching the Andes girls, is setting the bar high but absolutely within reach.
“They always say you should try to double your wins if you’re building a program,” he said. “I think a realistic goal is for them to win six. Our ultimate goal, I think they’d love to be .500 and go to sectionals, but that’s going to take a lot of work.”
He added that while on both sides of the league there would appear to be one or two teams that are head and shoulders above the rest of the league, he feels that the rest of the competition could be highly competitive.
“I think we’re all entering the season with our eyes wide open,” Rhone said. “My expectations are certainly higher than they were in the past, but expectations are only met if you come in every day and practice hard. If you don’t, you’re going to be mediocre. And I think we can be more than mediocre.”
Rhone is aided by Glenn Reynolds, who serves as the Mountaineers’ assistant coach.
The Mountaineers opened their season at Stamford on Tuesday. Their first home game will be Wednesday, Dec. 10 when they host Downsville at 5:30 p.m.