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Girls' basketball season preview: Vocal leadership will make Reese, Sand Creek even better
1. Sand Creek
2. Mesa Ridge
3. Palmer Ridge
1. St. Mary's
2. Manitou Springs
1. The Vanguard School
There’s nothing wrong with quiet confidence.
Unless, that is, you’re Sand Creek junior point guard Mikayla Reese, the floor leader on arguably the best 4A girls’ basketball team in the Pikes Peak region.
In her first two years, Reese let her playing do the talking.
Now, she's being challenged to become a leader in more ways than one.
“We’re working hard, really focusing on her being more of a vocal presence,” said Scorpions second-year coach Jamie Carey, drawing on her college experiences at Stanford and Texas and later for the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. “That’s something she needs to develop for a few years from now.”
Last year, Reese averaged 13.6 points, 3.5 steals and 3.3 assists in helping Sand Creek to the 4A quarterfinals, the furthest playoff journey in school history. Also, she verbally committed to play at Oklahoma State.
On Thursday, the Scorpions start a new journey and will look toward Reese to help take them there. Along with that first step, they’ll be listening for Reese, too.
“I’m trying to talk more this year,” Reese said. “I have to vocally lead more than just by example. We all expect more from each other this year.”
That could be bad news for the rest of the area 4A teams, especially among Sand Creek’s Pikes Peak Athletic Conference rivals Air Academy, Cheyenne Mountain and Discovery Canyon, all of which were hit hard by graduation. Discovery Canyon is the only team among the three that actually has one returning starter.
The Scorpions lost three seniors but return two other starters – seniors Raven Daniels and Bri Pratt snagged nearly 11 rebounds a game between them. Vista Ridge transfer guard J’nae Squires came off the bench in the second half of the season and averaged 6.7 points, and little sister Oliana, a freshman guard, could make an impact right away.
Last year’s long playoff run, however, took away any anonymity it might have used as motivation.
Now, Sand Creek carries the target, and weight, of being expected to win.
“There’s no surprising anybody this year,” Carey said. “We talk about it. Our biggest learning curve will be in our experience. We have to do what we can do on and off the floor.”
After last year’s 52-36 loss to eventual state runner-up D’Evelyn in the 4A quarterfinals, Reese looked at all parts of her game. Through intense individual workouts and cross-country travels with her club team, Reese thinks she has improved as a player and leader.
As seen by last season’s all-around game – her ability to score, pass or come up with a steal – her presence on the court changed the complexion of many games.
“Mikayla is an extension of her coach on the floor, and when you have something like that, the game is easier,” said Air Academy girls’ coach Bob Wingett, who led his Kadets to a 4A state title last season. “Sand Creek is going to be more experienced than a lot of the teams around here, and Jamie does a really good job coaching them. They play aggressive and really hard defense, and that’s what you ask for as a coach.”
The Scorpions will put Reese’s offseason hours and the team’s chemistry to the test with an early season schedule loaded with perennial powers, such as Pueblo South (Tuesday), 2011 5A state champion Highlands Ranch (Dec. 8) and Valor Christian (Jan. 4).
“If you want to be the best, you have to play the best,” Carey said. “The next week will be very challenging. We struggled against (Pueblo) South last year, have Liberty here in town, and then Highlands Ranch. That will be a huge challenge for us.”
As is Reese’s challenge to create a more vocal and dominating court presence. The early reviews are good.
“She’s getting better,” Daniels said. “We all had some regrets from the way we went out last year, and no one wants to walk away with that again. Every day, we push ourselves. We know we can be better.”
And it starts with Reese. If the Scorpions have their way, their star point guard will be known more for her rebel yell than being a quiet riot.