Are you a mourning hockey fan? If so, maybe some Sterling girls basketball can pacify your jones.
The Golden Warriors plan to sub liberally this season in order to take advantage of their depth. But while the shifts might be shorter than in years past, don't expect wholesale line changes.
"We're not going Grinnell-style or anything crazy like that, like Galesburg does," said Julie Schroeder, who enters her sixth season as Sterling's coach. "But being able to play multiple kids, and them knowing someone can come off the bench, step on the floor and do their job, I think that should fire our kids up, and they'll know they can play harder that way."
The we-first philosophy has created a buzz at Musgrove Fieldhouse during the preseason.
"It promotes a lot of good stuff within your team," Schroeder said. "The morale stays up, and kids see the chances they have to play. They know if they do what they're supposed to do, they're going to get minutes."
Knowing Schroeder will look all the way down the bench should also allow the Warriors to play up-tempo.
"We try to do that every year, but it doesn't always work out that way, because we feel like we can execute well that we can play in a half-court game if we're forced into that," Schroeder said. "But we definitely want to try and run up and down the floor and have some fun with those kind of things, because we do have more depth than we did last year."
While the Warriors only graduated three seniors, they were big pieces – SVM girls basketball player of the year Aleena Hammelman, innovator of the floorburn Ashli King and floor general Paige Lobdell.
"Aleena never came off the floor, Ashli and Paige hardly ever came off the floor," Schroeder said.
Sophomore Gabby Sandoval will take the reins from Lobdell as the team's starting point guard. Seniors McKenna Pearson and Taylor Olsen will serve as the team's captains.
Sharpshooting senior Stephanie Kester is looking forward to expanding her game after ranking second on the team behind Hammelman in scoring last season with eight points per game. She's worked hard at refining her ball-fakes and -handling, in hopes that she – and the team, in turn – can surprise the opposition.
"I don't think teams are expecting us to be that good," Kester said. "I think we'll catch some teams off guard and get some big wins."
Fellow returning starter, junior Kaitlyn Bauer (6 ppg., 4.3 rpg. last season), will be counted upon to command the paint, along with junior Kiarra Harris (6.6 and 5.6, respectively).
"I try to keep Aleena and Ashli in mind, on how hard they work," Bauer said. "But I don't want to fill their shoes necessarily. I've just got to do the best I can to play at their level."
Schroeder looks forward to utilizing Harris' 5-foot-10 frame and excellent athleticism, which was on full display during the volleyball team's historic season.
Thursday evening, before Meet the Warriors got into full swing, the team gathered to establish its goals. The list is pretty much a carbon copy of the last 15. It includes such benchmarks as winning 20 games and securing a Northern Illinois Big 12 West title.
"That's our program, and that hasn't changed in 10 or 15 years," Schroeder said. "Our kids understand that. We feel like we can sneak up on some people, and we have some things people don't expect to see."
The Warriors were unable to make it three conference crowns in a row last season, which finished with a 17-16 record and a 41-40 loss to Belvidere North in a Class 3A Sycamore Regional semifinal.
Sterling Golden Warriors
Coach Julie Schroeder (6th season, 102-56)
Advancement: Lost in 3A Sycamore Regional semifinal 41-40 to Belvidere North
Key losses: Aleena Hammelman, G; Ashli King, G/F; Paige Lobdell, PG
Key returners: Stephanie Kester, sr. G; Kaitlyn Bauer, jr. F; Kiara Harris, jr. F
Opener: at Stillman Valley, 7:30 p.m. Monday