No more tippy-toeing in the paint.
When the Davis High girls take the ball to the basket this winter, expect that clanking sound of a year ago to be replaced by cracks of thunder.
“We’ve been in the gym working hard,” second-year Blue Devil head coach Karen Foster told The Enterprise before a Monday practice session. “Defense is again our first objective, but after that, finishing is a priority.”
Sporting only two seniors a year ago, DHS couldn’t buy a basket inside. The locals shot less than 30 percent overall and a woeful 32 percent from point-blank range. While playing a relentless defense that progressively got better (opponents averaged 48 points per game), the 10-16 Devils were betrayed by their not-very-straight shooting.
Foster, after a week of varsity tryouts and a spring and summer full of AAU and DHS play, promises the Blue Devils’ 2013 edition will find the bucket.
“We went to two conditioning coaches, (we’re) using practice pads this year and everything inside is way more physical,” Foster said. “On defense, we will keep them out of our paint. If (opponents) are going to hit outside, they’re going to hit outside. We’re closing the paint.
“If we improve our finishing — which we have — and free throws … If we can control those three things, we’ll be able to play with anybody.”
The Devil depth looks to be the school’s best since its 2006-07 squad, with front-liner Ashleigh Vandenbrink and shooting guard Tori Powell expected to provide senior leadership as captains.
Vandenbrink was among the Delta Valley Conference’s leading scorers last winter and Powell — with her take-no-prisoners style — was a defensive force and periodic offensive whiz.
“Ashleigh is definitely stepping up,” Foster said. “She has increased her physical fitness and she’s ready to play.”
Foster adds that Powell is “lightning-quick … and is finishing better.”
Each fits nicely into a still-young troupe of up-and-coming Blue Devils.
Post player Emma Stenz returns and should provide a scary presence for opponents thinking about any kind of venture near the basket.
Caitlin Mazzoleni is a 6-foot swing player who can drive, pop from 3-point land or call the offense.
Foster will not hesitate to play Mazzoleni anywhere from point guard to “small” forward. Mazzoleni and Stenz are only sophomores who started most of last season for DHS.
Becca Hassid, Kylie Drexel, Maya Tarasenko, Daisy McKim and Danika Carlisle are a quintet of seniors who help give Davis a 12-player corps that Foster believes could be among the best in the region. Hassid at shooting guard and Drexel at point guard are in the mix for tons of playing time.
“We can go 12-strong any day of the week,” Foster said. “We can put any of them in and won’t see much of a difference.”
Junior Danielle Gantar, who emerged last year as a versatile starter, is another piece of the Devil puzzle that hasn’t been placed. Gantar, who also pole vaults in the spring, is part of the state meet-bound DHS cross country team. She has yet to report indoors.
And if all that experience isn’t enough to make the coach hopeful, Foster smiles when she talks about her two freshman back-court whizzes — Anna Belenis and Rachel Allison.
If the name Allison is familiar to Devil fans, it’s because Rachel is the little sister of former DHS standout Nikol Allison. The younger Allison has drawn early praise from Foster:
“She’s one of the best point guards I’ve seen in a long time. The girl can handle the ball with her head up. And with the way Anna is playing … these are two freshmen who will be hard not to start.”
Foster says she’ll carry as many as 16 varsity players. After seeing her girls through summer tournaments in places like Chico, Las Vegas and Palo Alto, it isn’t idle comment when she believes the Blue Devils will be a force in the Delta Valley Conference.
“I really do think we are a contender,” the Air Force veteran continues, adding that the same tenacious defense is ready to roll. “And we are going to score this year.”
Notes: Vacaville kicks things off on Nov. 26 with the CIF Foundation Game at Davis. The locals head to Pioneer on Nov. 28 before their home opener Dec. 4 against Inderkum. … Heather Highshoe has been added as Foster’s varsity assistant. Highshoe, like JV coach Kalyca Seabrook and Foster, is a Davis Wildcat mentor who played at Sierra College and Cal State Stanislaus. … The Dorothy Speck Memorial Tournament will be played Dec. 6-8 at DHS and this year features the Devils, Miramonte, Chico, Granite Bay, Vacaville Christian, River Valley, Woodcreek and McQueen (Reno). A JV tournament will run simultaneously.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.