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Girls basketball preview: Riders counting on guard play

12:00 AM, Dec. 05, 2012 EST

Roosevelt's Paige Mriden motions to a teammate during practice Monday as Coach Chris Clark watches in the background. / Jay Pickthorn / Argus Leader

Roosevelt girls basketball coach Chris Clark thinks the key to winning in the Class AA ranks this year might be point guard play.

With the Riders needing to replace Sydney Rome, who took her talents to Augustana College, you might think that puts Clark's team behind the pack, but he has a pair of speedy point guards that he hopes will work in tandem with 6-foot-3 post Tagyn Larson to make the Riders a contender for a state crown.

Nicole Hatcher, a 5-5 junior and Lauren Kunz, a 5-9 senior, both played extensively last year, and Clark believes those two and 5-8 junior Paige Mriden will give him a talented and feisty backcourt. Put them together with 5-10 senior Katelyn Johnson and Larson, who averaged 9.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game last year as a freshman, and the Riders have a formidable starting five.

"Our starting group is really good," said Clark, whose top candidates off the bench are 5-10 senior Halleigh Gunn - a transfer from Tea - 5-9 sophomore Kelsi Wipf and 5-8 junior Stacy Johnson. "We've got a lot of speed at the guard position and we have some tough kids that play hard. The concern is our bench. We've got a ton of games early on, and we have to find depth to get us through. Some kids are going to have to come in and play in some crucial spots. It's going to be sink or swim."

That will especially be true early as Clark said a few players will miss a game or two for excused absences. That might make it more of a disjointed effort early, but otherwise this is a team with momentum. The Riders went 18-8 last year in advancing to the semifinals of the state tournament and then beat Brandon Valley in the third-place game.

Even though Clark said they had a taxing February schedule, the Riders were playing some of their best basketball at the end of the year. This season, the load will be lighter at the end, and Clark hopes that means his team will be ready for another deep run at tournament time.

"I've been around long enough to see my team and other teams be really good and not go deep in the playoffs," Clark said. "So we have to really work. This team can be really good - we can be in the top five and my goal is to eventually have them in the top three. We've got the talent, we just have to keep getting better all year."



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