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New season, new hope, new coach for T-Girls

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The Petaluma girls basketball team has a new, but certainly not unfamiliar, coach to take it into what looks to be a promising season.

Sophie Bihn was handed the leadership of the T-Girl varsity program less than a week before tryouts following the unexpected resignation of John Ratshin for what Petaluma Athletic Director Ray McClintock said was for personal reasons.

The job is Bihn’s first as a head coach, but she definitely knows basketball and Petaluma High School. She grew up playing the game, and was a team captain for legendary coach Doug Johnson’s final Petaluma High team in 2013-14. She has coached seventh grade at Petauma junior high school and the junior varsity at the high school.

Many of the seniors on this year’s team were taught by her as they began their high school careers as freshmen. Her junior varsity team last season was 12-0 in league play and went 24-1 overall.

Several players from that squad will push up to the varsity this season, joining a strong cadre of varsity players that was 12-14 last season.

Two of those junior varsity graduates, junior Rachael Bles and sophomore Mallory O’Keefe, are expected to see considerably playing time in what is expected to be a very quick varsity backcourt.

Bles was one of the leading scorers for the JVs last season, averaging better than 15 points per game. “She can shoot and also drive to the hoop,” said Bihn. “She is working hard to become a leader.”

“Mallory is proof you don’t have to be big to play if you’re willing to work. Her height (about 5-feet) doesn’t bother her. She will go against anyone,” the coach said.

The newcomers will join a pair of veteran guards in the Petaluma backcourt.

Senior Marissa Temple may not be the team’s top scorer, but she provides something equally valuable — leadership. “She is probably our best leader,” Bihn said. “She is a great communicator on the floor. It has been exciting to watch her grow as a leader.”

Taylor Iacopi was one of Petauma’s top scorers last season as a sophomore, averaging 6.3 points per game. “She can shoot from the outside and she’s not afraid to drive,” Bihn said. “She is another hard worker.”

By far, Petaluma’s leading returning scorer is senior Sheriene Arikat. She was the only T-Girl to average in double digits last season, averaging 15.3 points per game. At 5-feet, 6-inches, she was also the team’s leading rebounder. “She is a great player, but she is not looking for attention,” said the coach. “She just wants to help the team win.”

Another veteran who will help is guard Paris Buchanan, a perpetual-motion guard who is one of the fastest players on the team. “She is another real workhorse,” Bihn complimented.

Petaluma doesn’t have a lot of height, but one of its biggest players is junior Rose Nevin, who plays taller than her 5-foot, 8-inch listed height. “She is very aggressive,” the coach commented. “She goes after every ball with determination.”

It isn’t only the well-known players who are being counted on to help make the T-Girls’ season a success.

“I’m about the work ethic,” Bihn explained. “Players who do well in practice and work hard are going to play. I may not start my best players all the time, but those who work hard and want to play. Those who push hard in practice are going to get their playing time.”

That plan is in line with the new coach’s philosophy that basketball is about more than sports. “It is about teaching them (the players) about life,” she explained.

She also believes in coaching the team, while understanding that each player is an individual. “Everyone is different,” she said. “You can’t relate to every player in the same way. I want the players to respect me, but not be afraid of me.”

Petaluma had mixed success last season, with many of its problems stemming from turnovers resulting from pressing opposing defenses. Bihn said the T-Girls are already practicing hard to improve in that area.

“We’re working hard on fundamentals — dribbling, being in the right place, the basics,” she explained.

“We’re going to press this year, and we practice against our own press every day in practice.”

Bihn will be helped on the varsity by Bryan Vaughn, who assisted Rathshin last season, and former Sacred Heart and Cal Poly player Ashley Boggs.

The head coach’s brother, Conor Bihn, will coach the junior varsity. He helped his sister with the JVs last year, and he has been a major help not only working with the players on the court, but also helping with all the administrative duties that are part of today’s coaching.

The head coach said it has been a quick learning experience, but with help from her coaches and veteran Petaluma High coach’s in other sports, she is coping with the outside responsibilities while enjoying her first love — coaching the players.

A Sonoma State graduate, Bihn works full time at a rehabilitation center for boys struggling with alcohol and drug abuse problems, but admits her ultimate profession as well as avocation will be coaching.

“I love it (coaching),” she said. “It is what I want to do.”

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