The Casa Grande girls basketball team has started the season well and is going to get better as it begins the new year healthy.
Senior team captain Hannah Sullivan is back from imposed inactivity as she went through concussion protocols following a knock on the head. She is expected to help lead the Lady Gauchos.
Still uncertain is the future of Katherine Silveira, who is caught up in bureaucratic limbo. Silveira missed almost all of her sophomore year in school because of a prolonged illness and returned to Casa Grande last year.
Because she missed so much of her sophomore year, she is back at Casa as a fifth-year senior. However, she has been ruled by the North Coast Section ineligible to participate in sports this year. Casa Grande is appealing that decision.
In the meantime, Casa’s veteran coach, Dan Sack, is giving four impressive freshmen a chance to gain experience under the fire of varsity play.
So far this season, they have performed well.
The promotion of the freshmen has not come without a cost. Faced with spreading freshmen over both the varsity and junior varsity teams, along with losing players with the switch of soccer from a fall to a winter sport, Casa has dropped its freshman team.
Four freshmen — Trinity Merwin, Ashley Casper, Sophia Gardea and Bella Blue — have all played a lot of varsity minutes, with Merwin emerging as one of the team’s top scorers.
“They have played really well,” said Sack. “They give me everything they have.”
Only the 5-foot, 10-inch Blue has any real size, and size could be a factor as the Gauchos seek to find scoring, rebounding and inner defensive help for senior Mia Cain. The 5-foot, 10-inch Cain is Casa’s main scoring and rebounding threat as well as a key component of its tenacious defense. She is the only Gaucho who seldom comes off the court.
“Mia is very focused,” said Sack. “Everything about her is, ‘Let’s do this.’ She has taken on the role of a more vocal leader this year.”
Scoring help will definitely come from Sullivan, a co-captain along with Cain. She is capable of hitting from distance, is a deft ball handler and a major player on defense.
“Hannah has been a leader her whole career. It is important to have her back,” the coach said.
Cain and Sullivan are well versed in Casa’s style of play, which, broadly stated, is press and run the whole game. More subtly, it relies on each player precisely doing her job — being where she is supposed to be when she is supposed to be there.
It also requires a deep bench to keep the motion perpetual, and Sack believes he has the troops to handle the tactic both physically and intellectually, although many of the players are young.
“It will be our same style of play, but with more bodies,” the coach said.
Sullivan is the only experienced guard. She leads a group that includes freshmen Merwin, Casper and Gardea, along with sophomores Emily Boulad and Emma Reese. Reese played varsity as a freshman.
There is more experience for Casa Grande up front. Juniors Shayla Dunker, Jennifer Loyo and Samantha Dedrickson all played varsity as sophomores.
Meheak Singh and Jashan Gillan will get playing time as Sack shuffles his players in and out.