Girls' Basketball Preview: Lady Tigers hope to key on speed, athleticism

The Douglas High girls' basketball team fielded one of the oldest and most experienced rosters in coach Werner Christen's career last season.

This year, the Tigers will be fielding one of the youngest overall groups he's coached.

"We lost eight seniors and that is a lot," Christen said. "They were all really good leaders and we will miss them a lot. This new group is very athletic and very enthusiastic, though."

The cupboard is certainly not bare. Douglas returns three of its top four scorers from last season (Jessica Waggoner, Dany Heidt and Taryn Williams in order) and will still have seven seniors, although only five have played at the varsity level before.

"It's a different bunch," Christen said. "Every year is different. This is a very versatile group but overall it is the youngest group I've ever had."

With seven players brand new to the varsity level, the first month will be a combination of different looks for Douglas.

"We're definitely going to be trying a lot of things," Christen said. "We'll plug people in at different spots, try a bunch of combinations. This first month is going to be like studying for the final exam.

"We have some good kids coming back, good experience. So far they have been great with the younger ones, helping out and showing them the ropes a little bit."

Douglas will kick things off at the Whitney Tournament in Sacramento on Dec. 4, which is a departure from what has become their traditional season-opener at the Lowry Invitational. After Whitney, the Lady Tigers will turn around and play in the High Sierra Winter Classic at Spanish Springs.

From there, Douglas launches into league play.

"We get right into this year," Christen said. "In the past we've played one league game before January. This year we play two games early. We have those two tournaments to figure some things out, but we have to know what we're doing somewhat coming into those league games.

"Everyone will play a lot early on. We want to see what everyone can do against different competition."

That'll start this week with a scrimmage against traditional regional powerhouse Reed.

"I was excited to get that," Christen said. "It's a great bunch to see where you're at."

Because of realignment, Reno -- the team that won every Sierra League title since the league was established in 2001 -- departs for the High Desert League along with Hug and North Valleys, two playoff-caliber teams over the past few years.

In their place, though, traditional High Desert powers Galena and Manogue come in with an always scrappy Fallon program.

Add to it a much-improved Wooster squad, an experienced Carson team, and athletic teams from Damonte Ranch and South Tahoe and the league overall should be pretty deep.

"It's going to be a very good league, very competitive," Christen said. "I don't think any one team is going to be dominant like we had with Reno in the past. Manogue is going to be very good, Galena is going to be very good. Hopefully we can find a way to get in that top four and do something in the playoffs."

The easiest way there, Christen said, may be winning on the road.

"With this league, road wins are going to come at a premium," he said. "A road win will be worth like double this year. If we can protect our home court and pick up a couple of wins on the road, we should be OK."

That works out especially well for the Tigers, since they have put together a 19-11 on the road over the past three seasons.

Heading up the effort will be senior center and four-year starter Jessica Waggoner (6-2), who really began to come into her own as an offensive threat toward the middle of last year. She is averaging 14.1 points per game over the past two seasons and will be chasing the school record for career points.

She is far from being the team's only scoring threat, though.

In the middle alone, Douglas will be using senior Taryn Williams (5-9, 3.12 ppg last season) and newcomers Ne'Jae Jackson (5-6), Megan Mitchitarian (5-5) and Bri Burnside (5-7) and freshman Cassi Uhart (5-5).

"As a group, they will be fun to watch," Christen said. "They will mix it up inside and they will be very competitive. We'll be able to pound with anyone this year as far as the physical part of the game.

"Cassi caught our eye this summer. She's very athletic and Jessica just pounded her during conditioning all summer. She had a great tryout and she will help us this year."

Dany Heidt (5-7, 3.70 ppg last season) will lead an athletic group of guards that includes senior Maci Pfaffenberger (5-7) and senior Niki Hamzik (5-5).

Senior Ally Freitas (5-5) appears to be the frontrunner to start at the point after logging considerable playing time there last year, but she will be joined by junior Susie White (5-5) and sophomore Jackie Harper (5-6).

"Our guards are real interchangeable," Christen said. "Dany is looking really good so far and we are expecting a big year from her. Harper is a player that play any of the five spots on the floor, and we'll probably use her in all five spots this season."

Douglas may also get a midseason boost from freshman Katie Dry, who was a speedster standout for the girls' soccer team in the fall before suffering a hip injury in the state playoffs. She may join the team after recovering.

"We're going to try to capitalize on our quickness and extend the court," Christen said. "The be able to run, we're going to have to rebound. If we can't do that, we won't be able to run."

Douglas' season opens Dec. 4 at the Whitney tournament against Roseville, Calif.


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