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Coach Harper says basketball team ready to play

The loss of more than 50 points per game to graduation will be a tough task for the La Conner High School girls' basketball team to surmount this season.

But second-year head coach Joe Harper, who guided La Conner to a fourth place finish at the Washington State Girls' 2B Hardwood Classic in Spokane last March, has crafted what he and assistants Scottie Miller and Roger Valentine hope will be yet another winning formula.

The key terms in that equation are speed and defense.

"Speed and defense," Harper stressed to the Weekly News on Monday, "is how we plan to offset our graduation losses."

La Conner is revamping not only its roster but also the team's style of play now that they no longer have inside scorers Ellie Marble and Makayla Herrera and perimeter shooters Josie Harper and Kennedy Miller as options for point production.

"We're losing roughly 50 points per game in scoring from our departed seniors," coach Harper noted. "I would anticipate a lot of closer games this year than we've seen in the past."

Still, La Conner isn't lacking for offensive punch.

Sophomore guards Maeve McCormick and Shaniquah Casey, major contributors a year ago, anchor the backcourt and will be counted upon to ignite the Lady Braves' transition game.

"Both are strong with the ball and both have a lot of basketball experience, basically playing year-round in different leagues and tournaments for quite some time," Harper said.

Sophomore Izzy Villard and juniors Lily Dougliss and Lydia Grossglass – each of whom reached the scoring column at the state tourney last season – are also key returnees.

"All three have shown an increase in confidence and skill over the summer and fall," said Harper.

A talented group of eighth grade prospects is expected to provide depth, also.

"We're in a unique situation this season in La Conner where we're able to use our current eighth graders," Harper said. "Our participation numbers when practices began were under the WIAA (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) basketball number of 16, so a decision was made to allow the eighth graders to try out."

That has proved to be a sound decision.

"Our youth coaches have done a fantastic job getting these ladies prepared over the years," Harper said. "Its very possible that we have some major contributors at the varsity level from this group."

Having lost a quartet of seniors who had played in the same system for several seasons, La Conner now will change its playing style to capitalize on its team speed.

"We didn't want to upset the cart last year," Harper said, "so we continued to use most of (retired) coach (Scott) Novak's offensive system while also adding a few things and we changed our defense to better fit the group.

"This year," he said, "we'll be more motion oriented on offense and we'll employ a harassing defense."

La Conner opens the '23-24 season Dec. 2 at home opposite Lummi in a rare 4 p.m. matinee tipoff.

Harper anticipates a tight NW2B/1B title race ahead.

"All teams have lost some significant starters," he said, "so we'll see how everyone does to overcome those losses."

Harper said the La Conner coaching staff will be without assistant Lynette Cram this year. Cram, he said, is taking time off to follow the collegiate sports career of her daughter, Rachel, at Whitworth University in Spokane.

"Lynette will be missed by the coaches and the players," Harper said.

Miller, meanwhile, is taking the reins of the La Conner junior varsity team while Valentine, a seasoned high school and college coach, will assist with both the JV and varsity squads.

"Scottie always brings a good attitude to practice and has a great sense of humor and helps us to keep things light," said Harper. "He also has great basketball knowledge from both coaching and playing the sport.

"Roger," he added, "brings over 30 years of experience and has been a great coaching mentor who fits in great with the program."

The La Conner coaching trio is eager for the games to begin.

"We've been very pleased with what we've seen so far from the group," Harper said. "The girls have been very coachable, have brought great attitudes and have come to compete."


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