ROCK FALLS – Height does more than make basketball players appear tall.
Rock Falls girls basketball coach Eric Wolf has the tallest roster of Rockets he’s had in 4 years on the job, and a well-experienced group of girls as well.
“We’re definitely bigger, taller and stronger this year,” Rockets junior post Kenzie Olson said. “We’re long, and defense is especially the key this year.”
The Rockets return four starters and their sixth-man from a 21-11 season that ended in the sectional semifinal round. Gone from the starting group is Olivia Babcock, a freshman at Parkland College, who provided much of the Rockets’ defense from the top of the key.
Plenty of long arms will make up for Babcock’s absence. Five players with varsity experience are over 5-foot-8.
“It’s going to be a big adjustment without Olivia,” junior forward Molly Buck said. “She helped out a tremendous amount, and hopefully we can have our other girls that we have [step up].”
Four-year starter Abbee Sigel moves to the point full-time. She led the Rockets with 15.5 points per game last season, 1 year after leading with 17.2 points per game as a sophomore. The Rockets developed more scoring threats last year, and Sigel – who will decide where she’s going to play in college some time after Christmas – is sure to lead the charge.
“Last year we were so young,” Sigel said. “Now we’ve gotten a lot more experienced, and have been hitting the gym. I think we’re going to be a lot stronger than where we were last year, so I’m pretty excited for this season.”
While the Rockets have plenty of inches per body, what they don’t have plenty of are bodies themselves. Wolf figures to have 10 players on the varsity squad and 10 more on a freshman-sophomore squad; there will be no freshman team this season.
Wolf said that there are some other teams in the Big Northern Conference that are going through similar numbers issues.
“If we lose one or two due to sickness or injury, we’re hurting on bodies,” Wolf said. “We just got to keep pushing and keep working. That’s the hard part for us, is our numbers. We just got to stay healthy this year, and that’s going to be the key for us. If we can stay healthy, we’ll have a real solid team.”
Rock Falls finished 7-3 in the BNC. One of those losses, to Genoa-Kingston, was avenged in the regional final; another was to conference power Rockford Lutheran, and the third to back-to-back 2A champion Byron – who loses four starters from those teams. The Rockets have not won a conference title since joining the Big Northern in 2011, and that is a big goal among others for this season of higher expectations.
“We have a target on our back this year,” Olson said. “We did good in regionals and made it to the sectional. We competed really well and competed with bigger schools, too.”
“Last year was awesome, and this year we’re hoping to do that, and more,” Buck said. “Every year you want to exceed further and further.”