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Indian girls look to step up

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

There is a good chance Haley Wells will be asked to do things this season she has never done before.

Wells is the lone senior on the Hays High School girls' basketball team. She only played in five games -- none as a starter -- a year ago after tearing ligaments in her ankle. At 5-foot-6, she will hardly be the biggest player on the court, yet could be needed to step in and play in the post because of the Indians' lack of size.

And if more is asked of Wells, she doesn't look to be the type to step back when it will be largely on her to move the team forward.

"Everyone needs to just step out of their comfort zone a little bit, including myself. I'm not used to it either. We have a lot of very talented freshmen and sophomores that will easily step up if they get the jitters out of them," Wells said.

"There is a lot of pressure on me this year, too, and I've never been a varsity starter," she added. "There were seven seniors that graduated last year. Not only do they have to look up to me, but I have to fill my spot and duties as a senior, too."

The Indians were a bit of a disappointment last season after returning seven seniors off a team that finished with 17 wins during the 2011-12 season. Hays High went 9-11 last year, losing to Salina South 42-31 in sub-state.

The only returners this season with any significant varsity playing time are Wells, junior guard Mattison Schlaefli and sophomore forward Audra Schmeidler. Junior guard Summer Smith, junior forward Emily Peckham, junior guard Brooke Russell and junior forward Kaylie Schoendaller also saw limited minutes, none having played in more than four games.

"It's going to pull in a few more younger players than we've had to in the past," Hays High coach Kirk Maska said. "On the bright side I guess, if you are starting over and you get the young kids in the game as freshmen and sophomores that's going to prepare them for down the line. I think they may take their lumps from time to time, but I think we are going to play hard and the young girls are going to be aggressive and pretty quick."

The Indians well rely heavily on underclassmen this season. Maska expects to dress 11 players early in the season, six of which will be a freshman or sophomore. The only freshman in the bunch is 5-foot-5 guard Talyn Kleweno. The rest include sophomore guards Brandy Pfeifer, Taylor Groen-Younger and Nicole Dinkel. Schmeidler is joined by Haley George as the other sophomore forward.

George, who qualified for state in cross country in the fall, is the tallest player for Hays High at 5-foot-10. She will be expected to step up and be an anchor inside for the Indians alongside the 5-foot-9 Schmeidler.

"I just really need to be big and work hard down low to help get the points and rebounds," said George, who played on the freshmen team last season. "It will be tough because it's hard to stay down there and I'm not the biggest person. So it's definitely tough to stay strong but I think I can do it."

Speed and aggressiveness will be how the Indians overcome their lack of size. Maska wants the players to pressure the ball on defense and extend the court, hopefully leading to easy buckets on the offensive end. Hays High is a team built more for a full-court tempo opposed to the half-court game.

"I'd like to say we are going to block out and control the rebounds but when you have 5-3 and 5-4 girls, a 5-9 girl can probably go over their back pretty easy without fouling," Maska said. "I don't know that teams can really overlook us. I think we are a team that if we shoot well we are going to be really good because I think the other things that we do we will be OK at. My biggest fear is getting a little too fast for our abilities and turning the ball over a lot."

The Indians will get their season started on Thursday at the Gerald Mitchell Hays City Shoot-Out. Hays High will open with Class 3A Riley County, ranked No. 5 in its classification in the preseason KBCA rankings, at 6:30 p.m. at Hays High School.

With so little experience to lean on, there are many questions to be answered about this Hays High team heading into its season opener. But if the rest of the Indians take on the same attitude as Wells, anything is possible. And with no one looking their way, the Indians believe they can surprise.

"I hope we can take that to our advantage and sneak behind everyone's ego," Wells said. "Usually the Hays City Shoot-Out is a good eye-opener for the season. I feel like by playing good teams we will see what we need to be by the end of the season and get ready for the postseason."