Hoosac girls prepare for the challenges ahead in the basketball season

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CHESHIRE — Every year brings a new set of challenges to a basketball team, and at Hoosac Valley it is no different for the Lady Hurricanes, runners-up in the last four straight Division III state championship games.

This year, Hoosac's biggest obstacle is its relative lack of size. But the pint-sized 'Canes aren't backing down to the challenge. At practice on Monday, coach Ron Wojcik put his team through a series of rebounding drills to hammer home a key tenant of the 2017-18 season — hustling.

"I think we are coming along," Wojcik said. "It's interesting. Every year is different. Your focuses are different and the same, in the sense you are trying to accomplish a lot of the same things, but how you get there is different. With the lack of size, we are trying to figure out new things. Picking up pace of play and things."

In truth, the Hurricanes have never been a "big" team, but with Kailynne Frederick plying her trade at Norwich University this season and Fallon Field up at Bowdoin, the Hurricanes lost their two best rebounders from last year. Frederick, in particular, was a reliable rock roaming the middle, rarely finding herself in foul trouble as she shouldered the burden at the center position.

But don't expect to find the returning players complaining about the losses. There's still a job to do this season as the bullseye grows ever bigger on their backs in Western Massachusetts.

"It's definitely different. We have a couple of our underclassmen stepping up and filling those roles we lost with [Field] and [Frederick]," senior co-captain Skylar Case said. "It's basically like every other year. You lose a couple of seniors, so everyone on the team has to step up. I think the girls are doing a really good job."

And for whatever the Hurricanes lost inside from last year, they bring back plenty of experience on the perimeter. Case has established herself as the point guard for Hoosac, and wing players Alie Mendel and Lexi Mercier have shown the ability to put the ball in the hoop at a good clip. Mix in the return of Kayla Garabedian, the other co-captain, Jess Halverson plus underclassmen like Riley Robinson and Sarah Field, and the Hurricanes have a nucleus that's been through the rigors already.

"Confidence is definitely key," Case said. "I see it every day. Even with the younger girls, our freshmen, they have confidence no matter what. We tell them 'don't be scared, just play your game.' That's what I've been seeing all week, that's what coach has been seeing all week, and just things are looking really good. Confidence is definitely there for us."

Wojcik has added to his coaching staff, with former MCLA standout Kayla Hotaling joining Bob LeClair, Stef Curry and Aliah Curry as the assistants.

A challenging regular season will once again test the Hurricanes as they prepare to defend their Western Mass. crown for a fifth consecutive season. Hoosac has a delayed start this year — the 'Canes don't start until the end of next week — before opening with its own Holiday Tournament, which sees Greenfield play South Hadley, and visiting Auburn facing Hoosac. Hoosac will head back to the Hoophall Classic and face Longmeadow on Jan. 12, host its Coaches vs. Cancer event on Jan. 20, and finish up the regular season at the Foxborough Tournament against some elite competition from out east.

"All of those games are tough," Wojcik said of the non-conference slate. "Theoretically, with our inexperience and the things we are missing, we could be in for some tough games and could have four or five losses going into the tournament.

"But if your goal is to win your division ... I think it's a big plus. I think that the kids playing in those big games can only help them going into the tournament at the end of the season."

Hoosac's holiday tournament on the weekend of Dec. 15-16 starts with Greenfield vs. South Hadley at 5:30 p.m., with Hoosac's game immediately following. The consolation and finals are on the 16th at 4:30 p.m. and 6., respectively.

Geoff Smith can be reached at gsmith@berkshireeagle.com, at @GSmith_Eagle on Twitter and 413-496-6254.


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