By David Fong
PLEASANT HILL — Neal Hans is quickly finding out what any great film director already knows — producing a blockbuster is almost easier than coming up with a suitable sequel that lives up to the billing of the original.
One year ago, Hans — the Newton High School girls basketball coach — and his team produced a season worthy of Hollywood, as the long-downtrodden program set a school record for wins by going 22-3 (the previous record for wins in a season had been 14) and reached the Division IV sectional finals.
Now — with two of the stars from last year returning but many members of the ensemble cast no longer with the program — the Indians will try to recreate that same magic from a year ago. Hans knows it won’t be easy — but feels his team is up to the challenge.
“Last year when we started practice, we said, ‘Let’s make history,’” Hans said. “We thought we could get the school record for wins and we thought we had a chance to get to a district final. We got the school record for wins and fell a little bit short of getting to districts in the sectional final.
“This year, we are saying, ‘We need to try to establish a winning tradition.’ We don’t want last year to be a one-year thing. We want to be able to come out and have a winning team every year.”
If the Indians are going to do so, they will have to without much of the varsity roster from last season. Gone to graduation are four seniors from last year’s team, while three of last year’s juniors elected not to return this season. Even with those losses, however, Newton does return its two leading scorers from a year ago, another player with varsity experience and a host of junior varsity players who saw every bit the same success as their varsity counterparts, going 19-0 last season.
It all starts with senior Madison Mollette, who averaged 12 points per game last season, and freshman Tatum McBride, who averaged around 11 points per game. Those two should provide a solid foundation from which to build for the Indians. Mollette is the lone returning senior for Newton.
“The girls are pretty fired up for this season,” Hans said. “You don’t always get both of your leading scorers back the next year, so that’s a pretty good place to start. Plus we’ve got another girl with varsity experience and we’ll mix in junior varsity players who went 19-0 last year. The big thing for us is we are going to have to start learning how to play together.”
The Indians also return junior Aliyah Stine, who saw plenty of varsity playing time last year.
“She’s a hustler,” Hans said. “She plays great defense. She’s really going to help us out on our press.”
From there, the Indians will attempt to mix in a number of players who primarily saw junior varsity action last year. Elizabeth Carrol and Kaylee Kesler are both juniors, while Macy Flanary, Britney Oburn and Anna Wolfe all are sophomores.
“Anna Wolfe is the only real size we have on our team,” Hans said. “She’s about 5-foot-10. All of the other girls on our team are smaller girls. We’re definitely going to be a smaller team than we were last year, so we’ll have to try to do some things to make up for that.”
A lone freshman, Mallory Dunlevy, also will see varsity playing time for the Indians.
Hans knows living up to last season’s success will be a challenge — but said his team is looking forward to the chase.
“It’s a tall order,” he said. “But we feel good about what we are doing.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong