Ready for tip-off
From outside the Blue Earth Area gym, the weight on coach Al Cue’s shoulders might appear quite heavy.
In his third decade working the sidelines for Buccaneer basketball and his second as the girls’ head coach, he will be tasked with replacing not one, not two, but seven graduated seniors for the 2016-17 campaign.
More than eight months after an overtime loss to New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva in Sub-Section playoffs, in which the Bucs boasted a trio of multi-sport starters in Karli Olsen, Paige Darrington and Taylor Grandgenett, Cue will be leaning on young talent almost by default.
But that is not hindering hope for a return to and a deep run in the postseason.
“There are lots of holes to fill,” Cue said, “but we’ve got a lot of good athletes. Win-loss-wise, I don’t see why we can’t be just as good as we were last year.”
Before the season-ending defeat in Sub-Sections, last year was a promising one for BEA, too. A 20-point win over Maple River in the opening round of playoffs followed an 8-2 stretch by the maroon and gold.
Despite overseeing a lineup that is now devoid of Olsen, Darrington and Grandgenett, Cue is confident another successful streak can be had by the youthful Bucs, even if it means overcoming expectedly steep competition in the Big South Conference.
“I think we can compete with every team in the section,” he said. “The conference will be very good this year, but there shouldn’t be a big drop-off.”
At the forefront of BEA’s revamped look will be a pair of returning starters in senior shooting guard Samantha Barslou and sophomore standout Caitlin Rorman.
The latter, who led the Buccaneer girls in three-pointers in 2015-16 and figures to be a focal point of the BEA offense, is on Cue’s radar as an every-game starter on the inside, either at center or power forward.
“Otherwise,” Cue said, “we’ve got another senior in Samantha Ripley, five other seniors, five juniors, and as a group, they’ve been successful at every level.”
Adjusting to the tempo of varsity competition, then, could be one of the early-season tests for the maroon and gold. Fifteen practice games over the summer and extra preparation in and outside the gym has Cue excited at the prospect of in-season growth, which he anticipates from every one of his varsity players: Barslou, Rorman, Ripley, junior guard Sofie Blair, junior forward Lindsey Norman, twin senior forwards Kaylor and Lindsey Jacobs, senior center Ryanne Klabunde and senior guard Brittany Johnson.
Of course, even with anticipated roster-wide improvement, Cue knows quite a few steps must be taken to replicate the hopes and successes of the Bucs’ recent years.
And that starts with how BEA intends to play the game. “Last year, we played with our biggest starter at 5-foot-7,” Cue said. “This year, we’ll probably start four kids who are 5-9 or taller.”
Whereas his Sub-Section contenders of 2015-16 used quickness to offset a lack of height, Cue suggested the focus of this season’s “taller, longer” squad will be to remain fleet-footed while also imposing its size.
“I think this’ll be a team that’ll run,” he said. “You want to open the gates and let them run, because I think they’ll want to play fast-paced.”
Shooting proficiency, if preseason evaluations are any indication, should not hurt BEA’s high-tempo attack, which could also feature senior Emily Johnson and underclassmen Sidney Blair and Alissa Norman.
But ball handling remains a priority in practice, Cue said, as does the defensive strategy that the Bucs will, of course, also need to enable their own scoring opportunities.
“We shoot pretty well, but you’ve got to get it up the court,” he said. “And we aren’t great man-to-man defenders right now, so we’re working hard to play zone and get better there.”
Assisted on staff by Braedon Hogie and Travis Armstrong, Cue could not ask for much more once the season gets underway Nov. 29, either.
Because if the girls continue to get better, whether offensively or defensively, the sights for 2016-17 are set on success, no matter how much change Cue and the Buccaneers have endured.