The calendar doesn’t flip to 2017 until Sunday. That doesn’t mean we can’t look ahead.
All three local prep girls basketball seasons are well underway and while some things are coming into focus, others remain ambiguous.
Here are the storylines to watch for the Reed, Spanish Springs and Sparks girls basketball seasons in the new year:
Reed Raiders: Can they contend?
Coach Sara Schopper-Ramirez spoke glowingly about her team before the season started.
She said it is the most talented team she’s ever had.
Those are strong words considering she won a state title in 2012. On that team was Gabby Williams, who now starts for UConn. The Huskies have only lost one game since Williams got on campus two and a half years ago. It was an 88-86 overtime loss at No. 6 Stanford in November 2014.
When looking over Reed’s roster, it’s easy to see where Schopper-Ramirez is coming from. The Raiders have six players, maybe more, who could earn all-league honors this year.
Taylor Johnson is one of the scariest shooters in the region. Autumn Wadsworth has been one the team’s leading scorers. Janae Bluehorse was a second-team all-league player at Douglas last year. Vanessa Hernandez was one the of the best players in Northern Nevada a season ago – as a freshman. Few in the 4A North are more athletic than Serene Townsell-Williams. And six-foot center Tori Baer provides a solid interior presence on a guard-heavy squad.
The list of talented players goes deeper than the aforementioned names. Reed has more talent than any team in Northern Nevada.
The biggest obstacle? Youth.
All of the names listed will be back next year. Two are juniors. Three are sophomores. One is a freshman.
So, can this team grow into a threat to Bishop Manogue or Reno?
The Raiders took their first big test of the season in just their second game. They went to Bishop Manogue and fell, 54-44. The deficit was 16 before hitting two triples as the clock drained to triple zeros.
Reno lost at home to Bishop Manogue by an identical margin, 69-59. The transitive property tells us Reed-Reno should be a pretty good game. The two teams meet for the first time Jan. 13 at Reno.
The Raiders have the potential to do something special, but to do so, they have to find a way to beat Reno – then Manogue.
Spanish Springs Cougars: Who are they?
There is no debating Spanish Springs is an improved team this year.
After winning seven games all of last season, the Cougars have already matched that total 10 games into this year (that’s a 7-3 record for those of us who struggle with math).
Spanish Springs has won six straight for the first time since the 2013-14 season. It can grow the streak to seven tonight against Silverado in Las Vegas in the first game of the Gator Winter Classic. A victory would give the Cougs their first seven-game winning streak since winning the first eight contests of the 2012-13 campaign.
So how good is this team?
It doesn’t have a dominant player like Bishop Manogue (Katie Turner and/or Malia Holt), Reno (Mikayla Shults) or Reed (Johnson, Hernandez, etc.), although Anhelica Shanrock can score points in bunches.
Art Cardenas has the Cougs playing collective basketball. It’s not flashy. It doesn’t scream dominance. It just works.
Night in and night out, nine or 10 different players are contributing.
Now, the schedule has certainly factored in the winning streak. The six wins have come over teams with a combined record of 24-24.
But as the old the cliché states, you can only beat the teams on your schedule.
The game to circle on the Cougs’ schedule looms on Jan. 10, at home, against McQueen. The Lancers (7-3) and Cougars are both unbeaten in 4A North play.
McQueen finished second in the High Desert League a season ago and figures to be in contention for another home playoff game this season.
Call that one a measuring stick game. Call it an identity revealer. Call it whatever you want, but we’ll know more about the Cougs after that one.
Sparks Railroaders: Can they improve?
Wins have been few and far between for the Railroaders for the majority of the last decade.
Including this year’s 0-3 start, Sparks is 12-98 over the last seven seasons. It hasn’t won more than three games in a season over that span.
There are several factors for the massive struggles in the Brickhouse: low turnout, eligibility, inexperience, resources, etc.
First-year coach Tawnya Beck now has the task of reaching down and raising the program for the ashes. She’s said success this year won’t be measured in wins or losses. It will be measured in small victories: Making a backdoor pass, connecting on a left-handed layup, making free throws, etc.
In all likelihood, Sparks’ final record this season this season will mirror those of the previous six. Considering the obstacles, however, the season can’t be ruled anything other than a success if the Railroaders find a way to start executing fundamentals and even hang around in a few games.
The boys hoops storylines to watch will be in next week’s Sparks Tribune.