Mitchell uses Jamboree to prep for season openers
     2013-12-05      By Terry Gaston    sports@geringcitizen.com
Photo by Roger Holsinger/for the Citizen - Gering junior Allie Vacha goes airborn against defense from Mitchell’s Taylor Peters (No. 20) and McKenna Zulkoski (No. 9), while Gering’s Katie O’Boyle and Mitchell’s Aspen Reifschneider rush into the action during the pre-season Hall of Fame Jamboree Tournament. 
Mitchell is one of the two Class C1 schools in the Class B-heavy Western Conference Invitational Basketball Tournament.

But both second-year girls’ coach Brock Ehler and first-year boys’ coach Jayson Gregory look to have their teams ready when they open their regular-season action today (Thursday) with first-round tournament games in Mitchell against Torrington.

The Tiger girls will take on the Trail Blazers to start the doubleheader at 5:30 p.m., with the boys’ contest to follow at about 7 p.m.

Both coaches got a chance to see their teams play a half each against Gering and Crawford on Saturday in the Nebraska Sports Hall of Fame Jamboree at the Gering High School gymnasium and came away feeling good about how their players can jell to form competitive teams by season’s end.

“For both teams, it was nice to get Hall of Fame game, just for the fact that you get to play some different competition, and I think you get some of the rust out and you get to see some things where your team needs to be doing better in a game situation,” Ehler said.

“It was kind of what we expect at the start of the season, kind of sloppy a little bit early, but we saw some things that can happen and be productive for the future of the program. It was a good competitive match with both games, and the girls got a good workout. All we ask is that they improve from it, and I think we will improve.”

Ehler, whose team rebounded from a seventh-place finish in the Western Conference Tournament to win the Western Trails Conference Tournament in February, said such early-season challenges will make the Tiger girls stronger as the season progresses.

“They come in with a good attitude and work hard in practice every day,” he said. “They look to accept some challenges and want to accomplish them, so that’s what will make them better.

“We look for a lot of competitive games this year, and we’re going to be a fun team to watch because we’re pretty fast and furious.”

The Mitchell girls return one returning senior starter in Taylor Peters, with juniors Kady Lower and Aspen Reifschneider back after getting some starting time during last season’s 12-11 campaign.

Senior Makaela Karpen will miss the season after suffering multiple concussions. She will remain part of the team as a manager, Ehler said. In all, he looks for a solid rotation of seven to eight players but might go deeper into the bench as the season progresses.

“We have four freshmen who are going to get to suit up a little bit, but they should serve some valuable minutes when they get in,” Ehler said.

“The kids are fast, they’re athletic and they’re in good shape. If they learn how to score, good things will happen. We’re the type of team that hopefully causes a lot of turnovers and scores a bunch of points in a flurry.”

Gregory, who takes over for longtime boys’ coach Kirk Kuxhausen, said his four returning full-time starters and three part-time starters from last season’s 10-11 campaign offered encouraging play against Gering and Crawford.

“I felt it was a step in the right direction,” said Gregory, a Bayard native. “We’ve been focusing on playing better fundamental defense, and we saw the boys take a step in that direction. Offensively, we didn’t run too much of our playbook, but what we did run I felt we executed all right.

“The best aspect of this team is we can get out and run, and that was what I was most impressed with. I walked away thinking, if we play defense, rebound the ball and push the floor, then we will look pretty good.”

The Tigers return four full-time starters, all seniors, in Jamie Fegler, Nick Harriger, Bo McVay and Adam Schlothauer. Some occasional starters also return in juniors Antonio Barrios and Alex Morales and senior Zach Pieper.

“I kept a lot of Kirk’s base stuff because we have so many guys who played under Kirk for three years, but we’re throwing little wrinkles in there,” Gregory said.

Both Mitchell coaches expect Torrington to be tough, as the Trail Blazers usually are.

“They return two starters and are very deliberate in the half-court offense,” Gregory said of the Trail Blazer boys. “They are going to work for very good shots and they’re going to make you play good defense the entire time.

“On the other side of the ball, they’re going to play tough man-to-man and a tough 2-3 zone. They’re really going to try to eliminate penetration to the rim and make you hit jump shots.”

“We can put points up in bunches, if we’re hot. I think if we can beat them down the floor before they can get their defense set up, hopefully we can get our shots off.”

As for the Torrington girls, Ehler said: “They have a couple good seniors who look like they are pretty good players. If we let them get hot and get some confidence, they can be dangerous and score a lot of points in a hurry also.”

Mitchell and Torrington are in the same side of the tournament bracket as Scottsbluff and Gering, which play tonight at the GHS gym.

Winners will play in Friday’s semifinals at Western Nebraska Community College’s Cougar Palace, while first-round losers will be in consolation semifinals at the Scottsbluff High School gym. The bracket’s girls’ games will be at 5 p.m. and the boys’ contests will start at 8 p.m.

“We expect a challenge,” Ehler said. “Win or lose, we want to be the team that plays the hardest, gets a good sweat going and learns a lifetime skill that it’s all about competing.”

“It’s a good experience to come out of the gates and play some bigger schools,” Gregory said. “It will be a tough weekend, but we feel like we can compete with anybody we come up against. The guys are pretty confident right now.”

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