After riding an experienced group into the third round of the playoffs last season, the Prosper girls basketball team has a different feel this year.
Head coach Trey Rachal has an influx of youth on this year’s roster, ready to replace a group of six seniors that played vital roles on a 25-win team in 2015-16. However, Rachal’s confidence in his team isn’t lacking one bit.
“People are going to see a different prosper team this year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t see a good Prosper team,” Rachal said.
Heading into this season, Prosper will be without some valuable pieces to their puzzle. Do-it-all guard Alexa Boushey, post-presence Hannah Reynolds and versatile sharpshooting forward Bailey Lightfoot all graduated and will need to be replaced with viable production if the Eagles want to match last year’s level of performance each time they take the floor.
It will take a complete team effort to replace last year’s upperclassmen, but a few players look to take on the roles of their incumbents. Rachal hopes for junior guard Maddy Willis-Rosa to take on Boushey’s role as a scrappy, hard-nosed perimeter defender, while sophomore center Scout Huffman puts her focus down low as a rebounder doing the dirty work inside the paint.
“We have a bunch of new kids that are eager to prove themselves, as we see every day in practice and in games,” Rachal said. “They want to prove that they’re a part of this new culture that we’ve created of a successful group.”
Having their two leading scorers back will certainly help with that. Senior Mackenzie Hewitt will once again run the offense from the point guard position, while Jordyn Oliver aids from the wing as a prolific threat on both ends of the floor.
The continued development of Oliver will have a big impact on the potential of the Eagles this year. She enters the season as ESPN’s No. 18 junior prospect in the nation and is coming off a busy summer, traveling to Argentina and winning a gold medal with the Under-16 U.S. Women’s National Team at the FIBA Americas Championship tournament.
After spending time with new teammates at a worldwide level, Oliver is ready to use her experience and apply it with the Eagles.
“It was surreal. We didn’t really know each other,” Oliver said regarding the U.S. team. “How we became a family in three weeks is something I want us to do at Prosper.”
Rachal said he’s expecting Oliver to become more of a vocal leader, something she has worked on for over a year now. Hewitt’s intensity as a teammate will only add to the big picture.
Those two players set the tone on the court for Prosper, which plans to slow things down and focus more on the fundamentals of the game in 2017-18. Rachal and his staff like to run in transition and play an in-your-face, high-pressure defense. Instead of implementing those principles immediately, Rachal plans to take things day-by-day to build good habits that will reap benefits when the games matter most late in the season.
“We have to be more fundamentally sound,” Oliver said. “Last year it was more fast breaks and keep going. This year, there’s more sets, slowing the ball down and playing at our own tempo.”
The players have bought into Rachal’s philosophies, and the results have been steady since he became head coach in 2013. He’s had a big impact on his players, both on and off the court.
“He’s always there encouraging us on the floor but also talking to us about things outside of basketball,” senior Lexi Lightfoot said. “We learn life lessons from him, and he’s always there no matter what.”
The process will take time, but Prosper remains focused on their long-term goal of making a state run in the playoffs. They’ve been eliminated in the area round in each of the past three seasons, solidifying themselves as one of the best programs in District 14-5A.
The Eagles enter the season as the No. 12 team in the state, but they’re hungry for more than a good ranking.
“You’re going to see a team all year that’s hungry, trying to figure out how to take it one step further and one step beyond that,” Rachal said. “The older kids in this program are ready to get over the hump.”