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The coaching staff has changed. Beyond that, however, there are a lot of familiar faces around the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball program for 2008-09.
Tarah Logan, who played for Los Alamos in the late 1980s and early 1990s, takes over the helm of the girls hoops program following the departure of veteran head coach Gerry Washburn in the spring.
Logan makes her career head coaching debut Saturday afternoon at home. The Hilltoppers open their 2008-09 campaign against one of their main rivals, Pojoaque.
Logan and her staff, however, will have a plethora of returning talent this season.
Los Alamos lost just two seniors off last season’s squad that advanced to the state Class AAAA playoffs before being upset in a first-round home game by Piedra Vista, 45-43, a game that Los Alamos appeared to have well in-hand early in the second half.
While one of the graduating seniors — starter and team captain Sarah Ethridge — is a sizeable loss, the Hilltoppers should have more than enough depth to make up for her departure.
Los Alamos returns two seniors and six juniors, most of which collected a significant amount of playing time.
With a large number of players returning from a 17-10 squad, the expectations around the Hilltoppers are already running high.
Logan, however, said neither her nor her players are feeling any undue pressure that can come with such great expectations.
“If there’s any pressure, it comes from us,” Logan said. “Anyone can put pressure on us, but it won’t match the pressure we put on ourselves.”
The Hilltoppers could find out very quickly how good they are with a rough nondistrict schedule. Following Pojoaque, the defending Class AAA state champions, Los Alamos will travel to Kirtland Central, the AAAAA runner-up last season and one of the most successful programs in the history of New Mexico prep basketball, for a Tuesday tilt.
Following the trip to Kirtland Central, Los Alamos will face a very good AAA squad in St. Michael’s and a very good AAAA squad in Moriarty.
Los Alamos has spent a good portion of the preseason trying to discover itself. Logan, who said when she was hired that she wanted to do a lot of running-and-gunning, has backed off that initial plan because most of her personnel feels more comfortable in a half-court set.
The Hilltoppers will try to run some motion offense in the early part of the season and then assess it and adjust from there.
Logan isn’t all about the Xs and Os, however. One of her other stated goals has been to learn about her players on an individual basis.
Following the tryout week earlier this month, Logan met with her players individually to learn more about them, something she said she’d also done during the team’s summer workouts.
“We’ve been trying to get to know them as people, too,” she said. “They have been playing with each other for years…and they’re pretty open to new ideas.”
This season, Los Alamos should be the taller team when it steps onto the court most nights.
The Hilltoppers have five players listed at 5-foot-10 or taller and most of them can run the floor fairly well.
One of its big girls is also the main offensive threat returning for the season, junior Taylor Ealey.
Ealey, who emerged last season as a major force on the inside, turned in a career-high 27 points against the Santa Fe Demons and had several other big outings during the district season.
Her partner across the paint, Bryanna Richins, returns for her senior year and likewise put up some big numbers during the District 2AAAA season. Richins, who is listed at 5-11, had a career-high 25 points in a critical district game against Española Valley.
“She’s a quiet leader on the court,” Logan said. “Everything she’s doing right now looks outstanding.”
Last season’s starter, Kayci Harmon, is the other returning senior.
In the backcourt, Tyree Richins is returning after starting as a sophomore last year at the 1-guard. At the 2-guard position, Logan said she’s expecting big things from Sarah Worland, a 5-7 reserve last season who Logan said has worked tirelessly on her outside shooting during the off-season.
On the defensive side, Logan said she’d like to simply things for everyone as well. She said she’s not planning on having her team put on a lot of full-court pressure, but will concentrate on its 2-3 and match-up zones for the time being.
Logan said she felt after watching her team scrimmage a couple of weeks ago that things will have to be kept simple for at least the nondistrict portion of the season.
“They were so nervous…timid might be the right word, on the court,” she said. “We had to sit down after the first two scrimmages and just talk. The third game against La Cueva, things looked much better.”
Logan thinks her squad has the talent to earn its fourth straight district title and make a deep run in the AAAA playoffs.
St. Pius X is going into this season as the defending AAAA champion. Moriarty, which Los Alamos hosts Dec. 5, has two of the premier big girls in the state in Kristin and Brandi Valencia. Albuquerque Academy, which crushed Highland in its opener, might also make some noise at playoff time.