Defense key for Bears |

Defense key for Bears

Two things have become standards when discussing Rifle’s girls basketball teams.

The Bears are typically considered a top contender in the Class 4A Western Slope League. And Rifle is always a tough defensive team.

So it figured when head coach Rick Schmitz talked about the 2003-04 team, playing strong defense was high on his list about what the Bears have to do to be successful.

“If we don’t play defense and don’t rebound, we won’t be very good. That’s how I’ve always felt,” Schmitz said as he enters his 17th year at the helm.

Equally as important, Schmitz feels, is the mental approach the team takes into each contest.

“We have to be mentally ready to play at the beginning of the game,” Schmitz said. “We don’t want to wait 6-10 minutes in to start playing.”

The coach’s worries on the Bears not being mentally prepared should be lessened with four seniors on the 11-member team roster.

Two of the team’s seniors ” Krista Wagstrom, Julie McWilliams ” are starters from last year’s 14-9 club, who finished as the WSL’s regular-season runner-up.

Wagstrom, who recently signed a letter-of-intent to play at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, will be moved around as the game progresses, Schmitz said.

One of the tallest members of the 2003-04 team, the 5-foot-11 Wagstrom will draw the opponent’s tallest player defensively, the coach mentioned, but will be used inside at the wing or spend some time around the perimeter on offense.

Julie McWilliams, Rifle’s other senior returning starter is just as versatile.

“She has a nice 3-point shot, but we’ll put Julie where we have to,” Schmitz said.

The Bears remaining seniors – Savanna Beecraft and Jessica Stilson ” are slated as possible starters.

Junior Kristen Neffendorf begins her third season as Rifle’s starting point guard.

Also scheduled to see appreciable playing time this season include juniors Renee Laudick, a 5-10 forward/post, wing Haley Hubbell, guard Jenna Pollard and 5-8 Lindsey Dahlin, up from the junior varsity.

Additional bench help comes from guards Lindsay McCue-Locke, a sophomore and freshman Kristin Guettler.

When it comes to discussing the WSL, Schmitz said any of the league’s six other teams “are capable of beating anyone.”

“It’s pretty even,” the coach said. “It will be interesting to see who comes out of the pack.”

So far as league play goes, the Bears will have to wait until after the holiday break to see how the season unfolds. However, Rifle’s nonleague schedule, which includes Thursday’s season-opener at Basalt, is tough.

After the contest at the Longhorns’ “Big House,” Rifle’s December schedule includes games at Class 5A Grand Junction and three contests in the annual Black Canyon Tournament at Montrose High School.

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