The Lake City High girls basketball team will have a new look in more ways than one this year.
The Timberwolves have a new coach in Royce Johnston, who replaces Darren Taylor.
Taylor, who coached Lake City to the 5A state title two years ago, stepped down to take over as the school’s head baseball coach.
Another big change for LC is on its roster. Six sophomores and one freshman will see a lot of playing time this year. In fact, four sophomores are projected to start.
They will be packaged around LC’s one constant – 6-foot-1 senior post Katie Baker, who is in her fourth year as a starter.
Baker, who signed a letter of intent last week with the University of Montana, was named the 5A Player of the Year as a sophomore when she led the Timberwolves to the state championship. She’s twice been named the Gatorade Player of the Year for Idaho.
“We are a young and talented team, but we have the experience where we need it – with Katie,” said Johnston, who coached LC’s junior varsity and assisted Taylor last year. “If we don’t score in transition, then it will be time for Katie to touch the ball. There’s no question who our leader is. She has the experience, and the younger girls respect that.”
Johnston plans for LC (14-7 overall, 9-3 in league) to push the tempo. The T-Wolves will press all over the court for four quarters.
“We’re aggressive and confident,” Johnston said.
That was evident last Friday when LC opened with a 100-23 win over a young Sandpoint team.
“I wouldn’t want to play against our team,” Johnston said.
Johnston said that even though he knows defending state champ Coeur d’Alene, which returns its lineup intact, is heavily favored to repeat.
“We just want to have a chance to win in the fourth quarter each time we play Coeur d’Alene,” Johnston said.
In addition to Baker, LC returns four lettermen and one other starter. Sophomore guard Sydney Butler (5-7) is the other returning starter. The other returners are seniors Jessica Ross (5-8), a wing, and posts Alivia Johnson (5-10) and Ashley Davis (6-0).
The four sophomores who Johnston plans to start initially are Butler and guards Brianna Duran (5-0) and Gina Mitchell (5-10) and post Jenny Kerr (5-9). Freshman guard Jasmine Smith (5-4) and sophomore guards Alyssa Kacalek (5-4) and Dailyn Ball (5-9) will see time off the bench.
“Katie and Sydney won’t leave the floor often,” Johnston said.
Johnston said the transition from Taylor to himself has been smooth.
“It’s been fairly seamless,” Johnston said. “What’s nice is I’ve coached seven of the 11 girls. They know me and they know my style.”
Kerr, Duran and Mitchell started for Johnston on a JV team that went 15-3 last year. All three of the losses were to CdA.
Johnston said LC could have some bumps in the road early.
“We don’t have a lot of varsity experience so we could make a lot of mistakes early,” he said. “But we’ll be there at the end.”
Johnston sees LC, Lewiston and Post Falls battling for the chance to see which team will have an opportunity to join CdA at state. The region receives one automatic state berth, but the runner-up can earn a state berth in a play-in game against the District III fifth-place team.
“Coeur d’Alene doesn’t have a weakness,” Johnston said. “You have to be realistic about your chances against Coeur d’Alene.”
Johnston already has appreciated the leadership provided by Baker.
“She’s a better person than a basketball player, and she’s a very talented basketball player,” Johnston said. “She’s been real patient with the girls. She’s very excited about the young talent we have.”
Johnston grew up in Plains, Mont., where he had a standout career as a guard and 3-point shooting ace. He will encourage his players to shoot early and often from 3-point range.
“I just want to prepare the players and allow them to play instinctively,” Johnston explained. “I think coaches have a tendency to over coach and try to control the game.”
Johnston likes the fact that he has a young team.
“I think we’ll be able to fly under the radar for a while,” Johnston said.
The Bulldogs (9-15, 4-9) also welcome a new coach.
Lance Bruce, who coached the boys team for one year, takes over for Jim Alsager, who resigned to spend more time in his job as regional director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
If their season-opening loss to LC is any indication, the young Bulldogs face a long year.
One starter moved and another who would have been a four-year starter decided not to turn out. Two other lettermen who would have challenged for starting positions also decided to not turn out.
That leaves Sandpoint with just two returning lettermen – junior post Christina Johnson (5-9) and senior guard Jenny Thomas (5-6). Both started from time to time last year.
“After those two, we’re very, very young,” Bruce said.
Senior forward Nicole Adams (5-8) moved up from JV and is challenging for a starting spot, Bruce said.
Others who will see plenty of playing time are sophomores Natasha Roop, a 5-9 post, Charissa Chatburn, a 5-4 guard, and Lorna Heer, a 5-10 post.
Another sophomore and two freshmen could see significant time, Bruce said.
“The loss of the players who didn’t turn out really hurts our depth because now we’ve got kids playing up on varsity that probably aren’t ready to be there,” Bruce said. “It’s not the ideal situation, but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”