In his 17 seasons as the Rock Falls girls basketball coach, Craig Mammosser has always favored a guard-oriented, up-tempo style that puts pressure on the opposing team.
With only one player on this year's team taller than 5-foot-8, it's a good thing he likes guards.
What the Rockets lack in size down low, they'll more than make up for in quick, speedy, athletic players all over the court. The personnel most definitely matches Mammosser's philosophy.
"Our style really fits the players we have, and that means we should be able to play at a high level," junior guard Dallas Clevenger said. "We don't have a lot of height, but our offense has always been based off our guards, and we've got a lot of good ones on this team."
The "height" for this year's Rockets is, basically, 5-11 junior Bailey Schrader. The athletic Schrader is entering her third year as a varsity post player, and knows what to expect after two seasons in the ever-competitive Big Northern West.
But after doing most of her damage as the weak-side attacker opposite Jordan Giddings the past 2 years, Schrader will be on her own down low this season. Rock Falls will employ a four-guard look more often than not, and will look to replace 4-year starter Morgan Mammosser by committee on the perimeter.
"Not having Morgan or Jordan leaves some big shoes to fill," Schrader said, "but we don't doubt that we can do it if we all work together and try to fill them as a team. We're all quick, we can all run the floor and work the ball around, and we have a great understanding of what we're trying to do and how we have to do it."
Coming off a 12-16 season that saw a heartbreaking overtime loss to Sterling in the 3A regional semifinals, the Rockets are ready to improve on a 5-7 conference record, and try to get back to the 2011-12 form, which saw a 21-11 record and a last-second loss to Stillman Valley in a 2A sectional final.
To do that, they'll have to replace Morgan Mammosser and Giddings more than just on the court. Clevenger says the leadership those two veteran starters brought to the table last year, both in good times and rough ones, will be an even bigger hole to fill than their basketball IQ and physical talent.
But coach Mammosser believes that not having a bona fide star or two could be a good thing.
"We don't have just the one or two players that everybody leans on all the time, and that means they rely on themselves and each other more," he said. "Everybody on this team is their own person, and we're going to have more than one option down the stretch in a close game.
"We're asking every girl to play 3 or 4 minutes at a time, and give us everything they've got while they're out there. The girls all know they're going to get a lot of minutes, and that makes a huge difference in terms of everyone being ready to go and eager to work hard and play well."
"Eager" is a word best embodied by senior guard Kara Nehrkorn. After missing most of last season after breaking a toe right around Christmas, she is back and ready to play her part – on and off the court – to help the Rockets.
"Getting hurt last year didn't help the team at all," she said, "and I want to make up for that. We want to take advantage of everything we get, on both offense and defense, and use our speed and athleticism. I want to do the best I can to help us win, and every girl on the team feels the same way. If we can play the style we want, and do it as a team, we might be close to unstoppable."
2013-14 Rock Falls Rockets
Coach: Craig Mammosser (17th season, 244-214)
2012-13: 12-16 (5-7 Big Northern West)
Advancement: Lost 50-43 in OT to Sterling in 3A Sterling Regional semifinal
Key losses: Jordan Giddings, F; Aubree Johnson, G; Morgan Mammosser, G
Key returners: Dallas Clevenger, jr. G; Danica Fortune, sr. G; Kara Nehrkorn, sr. G; Bailey Schrader, jr. F
Opener: at Newman, 7:30 p.m. Monday