The Hillsboro High School girls’ basketball team is not afraid of being the favorite. As a group they want to have the target on their backs and take every opponents best shot.
“Our expectation is to win state. We’re not going to shy away from it. We believe we’re the best team in 3A,” head coach Nathan Hiebert said. “The thing I appreciate is it’s not a cocky attitude — they expect to play the best that they can and that they think their best is a little better than anybody else’s.”
Hiebert has not come to this expectation lightly. The team finished third in the 3A state basketball tournament last year, has made the tournament the past three seasons, and is brining back 75 percent of its scoring and rebounding from last season.
This group of players has known very little failure at their time at Hillsboro High School. In three team sports — volleyball, basketball, and softball — the Trojan seniors have only missed two state tournaments.
The juniors and younger players have gone to state in every sport, every year.
Oh, and the majority of the basketball players played volleyball where they just won a state championship.
“The girls programs have just created a lot momentum with success,” Hiebert said. “Early on, the girls are getting used to that; they learn to compete in tough situations. It’s beginning to be a culture.”
What makes this Trojan team special is its collective unselfishness, Hiebert said. Last season, the Trojans had six different leading scorers. In total, 14 players saw varsity minutes last season.
“Some teams, if their leading scorer isn’t the leading scorer, they’re frustrated and they think they have had a bad game,” Hiebert said.
The unselfish play starts with the Trojans leading scorer and rebounder from last season, junior power forward Tena Loewen. Loewen scored the majority of her points last season on layups or shots in the paint. She used her unmatched athleticism to drive the lane or sky for offensive rebounds.
“She has the capability of a pull-up jumper; I’ve seen her hit a 3-pointer, but I don’t think she would ever take one in a game,” Hiebert said. “She’s unselfish enough to take the better opportunity.”
Loewen also possesses good vision and passing ability and finds her teammates on the perimeter for open shots as she draws defenders into the lane. However, she is not the only Trojan making the extra pass. Hiebert said it is a team habit, which can lead to many players getting into the box score.
The team’s unselfish nature can manifest itself in other ways as well. It was Hiebert’s conclusion after the first practice of the season Nov. 14 that the team needed to get into shape. He said the practice the next day on Nov. 15 was a great all-around effort.
At school the next day, girls said they were sore; they were not complaining, instead, they were appreciating the hard work.
“’We have to get into shape; this is a good thing for us,’” Hiebert repeated from a team member. “That’s an area they’re willing to go above and beyond. If I think they can do it better, they’ll try to give me the effort to do it better.”
Part of the winning culture at Hillsboro is girls encouraging each other. Hiebert has witnessed it this year especially with the team’s five seniors — Courtney Weber, Callie Serene, Krista Reimer, Stephanie Sanders, and Amy Bartel.
Hiebert said each player was rooting for and helping freshmen during the team’s practices.
“When they know they’re appreciated, they’ll play better,” Hiebert said. “Those things carry on past the game of basketball. Every person has value.”
Hiebert did point out Sanders and Serene as vocal leaders for the team, both players being adept at engaging teammates. Hiebert said he does not have many vocal leaders on the team, but the effort by experienced players can speak volumes to the younger players.
“We have a lot of leaders by example,” Hiebert said. “We have some quiet girls; they’ll talk when they need to.”
Sanders leads a plethora of returning guards. She is competing with junior Maci Schlehuber, sophomore Danae Bina, and sophomore Maddi Duerksen for the starting point guard position vacated by Allie Faul who graduated.
Point guard has been a revolving position for the Trojans, with three different players operating the floor general spot in Hiebert’s previous four seasons. To help with potential inexperience, Hiebert said he is confident to have any player, except the starting center, bring the ball up the floor.
“I challenge the girls to not be one dimensional,” Hiebert said.
The shooting guard position is also open with Serene and Weber in the mix. Serene, Weber, Schlehuber, and Bina all have starting experience from last year, although graduate Becky Faber played the position most last season.
Hiebert said he is confident in all his guards to shoot from the outside and play stifling pressure defense. The Trojans pride themselves on their effort on the defensive end of the floor, which often leads to easy baskets on the other end of the court.
“It’s a mentality I’ve tried to get in their heads,” Hiebert said. “The teams at state, they do something to alter the other team’s offense. I always want the girls to feel like they’re in control.”
The Trojan attack may run through sophomore small forward Addie Lackey. Lackey’s has a toolbox full of offensive options. She was the leading 3-point shooter for the Trojans last season and can drive, shoot midrange jumpers, and can post up smaller players in the right situation.
With a lack of post players, Weber may see time at either the three or four positions. Bartel, who mostly played off the bench last season, could also play guard or either forward position.
Staring most games last season, Krista Reimer will likely be the Trojans starting center. She possesses the ability to score down low and is a dogged rebounder and defender.
With nine players possibly ahead of them on the depth chart, junior forward Christina Morris and Duerksen may have hard luck for playing time. Hiebert praised both players length and athleticism. Morris and Duerksen would start for many teams. Erin Winter is another player who saw action for the Trojans last season who should come off the bench.
The road to a state championship will not be easy. Central Kansas League matchups with Hesston, Pratt, and Haven should prove difficult. The Trojans begin the season Dec. 6 with the Moundridge tournament; Moundridge won the 2A state title last season. The tournament also includes perennial 3A power Garden Plain.
The Trojan Classic, beginning Jan. 16 in Hillsboro, also features tough competition with Thomas More Prep-Marian of Hays, Wamego, Riley County, Goodland, and Republic County.
“They don’t have to do it all by themselves; we focus on family,” Hiebert said. “Everyone has an important role.”