When the final buzzer rang in last year’s Great Basin Conference Tournament, it signaled the end of a long season for the Wood River High School girls’ basketball team and head coach Matt Newhouse.
There were few bright spots in between a season that saw the Wolverines muster a 4-17 record (1-9 in league play).
One of those bright spots was Sydney Tidwell, who averaged 10.8 points per game and led the team with 11 double-doubles. The other bright spot is how young the team is, which means there’s room for an immense improvement.
Wood River will be without Tidwell, as she graduated and is at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, Wash.
Now, Newhouse is faced with finding a new solution and an identity for the team.
“You’re not going to replace Sydney’s production,” said Newhouse. “We’ll have to play the game differently. We’ll shorten the game and not try to score as many points.”
By not scoring as many points, what Newhouse is saying is that his squad will have to be a defensive-minded team—a physical basketball team that will create turnovers and cause the opposing team to make mistakes that will hopefully equate into points.
Newhouse hinted that opponents and fans will see different types of defenses with this Wood River team. The Wolverines will tinker with full-court press, 3/4 trapping, zone and “everything under the sun,” as Newhouse put it.
Dubbing himself as old-school, Newhouse added that his team will look very much like an old version of the Indiana Hoosiers: work harder than everyone, play smarter basketball and play with some intelligence on top of a defensive-minded mentality.
Newhouse will be a teacher of basketball at times rather than a coach of a powerhouse.
He’s going to stress smart play and limiting turnovers, basic motion offense and a lot of off-the-ball screens to open up good shots. Very rarely will the public see one-on-one matchups; this team will stress team play, which is refreshing to see a coach do rather than expect players to create on their own.
Newhouse said there won’t be any one focal point for the team because of the departure of Tidwell. The team will be looking to fill that void with young talent.
Currently, the roster will be topped by a slew of juniors who will serve as the “veterans” of the team.
Leading the Wolverines back in the 2013-14 season will be Cicely Peavey (6.0 ppg), Rory Cole (3.6), Haylee Petit, Kenya Schott and Samantha Sutton. The roster is rounded out by Giselle Andrade, Manuela Cortina-Ortero, Sara Lichtehberg, Michelle Mason and Blair Radford.
With a lack of turnouts this year, Wood River will only have a varsity team and freshman team.
The freshman team will be composed of Kali Castle, Tess Holister, Leticia Vallencia, Molly Whittington, Ana Wierdrick, Mardi Worthington and Caylee Yagla.
Many of the girls on the team have volleyball and soccer experience, which means Wood River will have athletes and some height.
Newhouse pointed out that at times there will be positive matchups for Cole because she has size and will have a lot of opportunities to be successful.
When a team has this many returning starters and is this youthful, one bright spot would be their chemistry.
“They all play together well,” said Newhouse. “They’re a very close-knit group of kids.”
With the team being young, many of the girls will be thrust into situations early that will make them play through struggles. It will be trial by error and possibly another long season.
With no seniors on the team, there will be a need for the freshman to step up at times. Newhouse is confident his freshman will step up to the spotlight because they are such strong athletes.
“By the end of the season, they won’t look like freshmen,” said Newhouse.
By being more of a teacher, Newhouse will try and change the culture at Wood River, which isn’t used to watching very many winning teams.
“Trying to figure out how to win is a tough battle for a team that’s not accustomed to winning,” said Newhouse.
Changing the culture at Wood River is easier said than done.
Last year was Newhouse’s first year as Wood River’s girls’ basketball coach, a position that seems to be a revolving door at times.
The Wolverines will try to bounce back with a skittish home record from a year ago, when they only won one game while winning three on the road.
It will be an uphill battle for Wood River for much of the season as Twin Falls, Burley and Minico are the top three teams in the Great Basin Conference. Burley (9-1) not only won the regular season, but also beat Twin Falls (9-1) in the Great Basin Tournament Championship last year.
Wood River has a chance to start the season off with two wins. The Wolverines open this Friday night at Gooding. The team lost to Gooding last year (40-30).
Wood River will open home play Monday, Nov. 18, against Buhl. Wood River split last year’s meeting with Buhl.