Senior Caroline Dodd walks into basketball practice a little after 3:00 p.m. with her burnt orange headband on and neon yellow sports bra showing out of her number 33 jersey. Practice is supposed to start right at 3 but so far she hasn’t missed anything. A few teammates snag one or two more practice shots in before assistant coach Kelli Kurle blows her whistle and hollers, “stretch!”
With the girls’ basketball season underway, the team follows a rigorous practice schedule preparing for the upcoming season. Having lost key players since last year, this year head coach Scott Stein says they need to really narrow in on their game. Working on offense and defense, conditioning and getting the team to work well together is what he is hoping to have them accomplish.
The girls sit in one large circle, stretching. Just like coach ordered. Each one pulls and leans, touching one toe, then switching sides. One girl lies face down on the court, while another one of her teammates kneels on top of her—massaging her back with her elbows. Number 33 begins braiding number 40’s hair just as Kurle shouts that practice has officially started.
It’s 3:15 p.m. and Kurle blows her whistle again. The players know where to go and what to do. It’s obvious that to them, it’s just routine. As groups of four spread to each corner of the gym preparing for line shooting, Dodd holds the back of her leg to her waist, doing one last hamstring tug before the scrimmage begins.
A regular practice goes as follows: from 3 to 3:30 p.m., line shooting—which is when the team is in multiple groups spread evenly at each basket throughout the gym and shoot from five different spots, once around the court and back, then seven or eight shots must be made at each spot. Next up, stretching. Then warm-up drills: three on two, and two on one.
Stein doesn’t arrive at practice until 3:30 p.m. each day. So until then, his assistant coach Kurle runs the team.
“When coach Stein gets here, we sometimes do these things called stations where we practice fundamentals, ball handling, shooting and stuff like that,” Dodd said. “Right now it’s kind of been just learning new things because it’s the beginning of the season. We’ll scrimmage sometimes. And we usually run at the end.”
The team also practiced over Thanksgiving break, having Thanksgiving off but by Friday were awake and ready for practice again by 8 a.m. Christmas break is the same. However according to KSHSAA, who oversees high school activities in Kansas, a certain number of days off must be given to teams. This year, it is six days.
Dodd says that Stein expects them to be intense and work hard during practice. He is trying to implement the ‘no talking rule’ more this year.
“Last year we would get in trouble a lot for talking so this year he’s trying to make it like…he doesn’t want us making conversation if we’re out or anything,” Dodd said. “He just wants us to practice like we’re in a game, so play really hard.”
Stein thinks it can be challenging to work new people into the mix and get them use to playing together, but that it’s all about their focus during practice transferring to their games.
“The hardest part is getting them to understand that they have to practice harder than what they do most times,” Stein said. “When people are in the stands, they [the team] plays harder they try to play faster, the other team is putting more press on them. The hardest part is to step up their intensity during practice.”
Dodd quickly passes the basketball to junior Grace Pickell half way down the court who passes it back to Dodd, scoring a lay up. Stein’s angry voice can be heard in the background. “It’s critical against two on two plot that you don’t dribble!”
Stein strategically places the players where they need to be. They flip over their reversible jerseys, some alternating from blue to black, others vice versa.
“Step up Grace! Turn! Go! Grace don’t take this personally but safely get rid of the ball…do you understand?” She simply replies, “I got it.”
Pickell, a junior, is on varsity this year. She played freshman team her freshman year and JV her sophomore year. Sometimes, she was able to suit up and play a little varsity then too.
She says her favorite part about basketball is bonding with the girls and the friendships you make, but on the other side it can sometimes be hard to stay fired up.
“It’s just hard to keep your head up and just keep going, especially if you mess up your confidence goes down,” Pickell said. “After a two hour practice when you’re on the line, it’s not always possible to be like ‘OK let’s do this,’ Pickell said. “But you realize in the end it’s going to be really worth it.”
Dodd agrees with Pickell that even though practices can be rough and intense, that you may not like certain things while it’s happening and that it can be difficult having to practice over the holidays, that it’s all worth it once you finish a game.
“I feel like all the running we do, even though we don’t really like it at the time, it really does pay off because when we’re in the hard games and stuff, and you feel like you’ve got to keep going that’s when it really pays off,” Dodd said. “I feel like you feel a lot better when you have put in that work.”
This year, Stein says he thinks that this season will be even better than last year because the players are familiar playing with each other more than they were before, and that they have stepped up their game during practice.
“Those that are returning obviously…there are a significant number that know what I’m like, nothing’s a mystery, they know how practices are going to go,” Stein said. “There’s not much of a figuring out period here finding out what I want, so that makes it easier.”