By Bill Choy
Triplicate Sports Editor
CRESCENT CITY The Del Norte High girls varsity basketball team is ready for the start of the season and are determined to make strides on the court this year.
The Warriors begin their quest tonight at a three-day basketball tournament in Yreka. Their first match will be against Etna this evening.
Last season, Del Norte went 6-16 overall and 0-7 in the Big 5 Conference.
Girls Head Coach Buzz McCulloch said he likes the potential of his team this year. He said the squad is determined to improve from last year, be competitive and do well in Big 5 Conference play.
"We've got a good group of girls who are willing to work hard," he said. "Hopefully, this year we can get over the hump."
After more than a month of tournament games, Del Norte starts the Big 5 season with a home game against Fortuna on Jan. 10.
Although Del Norte had only six full practices with the entire team before tonight's game, McCulloch said he's pleased with the way the girls have been gelling as a squad.
He has been impressed with the focus of his team and said they have shown a willingness to learn and get better.
Although Del Norte brings back only two returning seniors, McCulloch said newcomers and a few underclassmen from last year's team, including two key starters, give him hope the team is about to turn a corner.
A strength of the team, McCulloch believes, will be on defense, where they will take advantage of "good team speed,"and having an athletic group full of players who also compete in other varsity sports such as volleyball and soccer.
During practices, a major area of attention for McCulloch has been free throws, which was a weakness last year.
Several games were lost due to poor free throw shooting, which included a game in which the team went 6-for-21 from the line.
During practices, McCulloch said they have emphasized free throw shooting and a decent chunk of practice time has been devoted to working on shooting from the charity stipe.
Free throws could be a "key factor" on how the season goes, he said.
Sophomore Lauryn Lesina, who was the second leading scorer last year with about eight points a game as a freshman returns.
McCulloch said she is the team's best shooter and has the ability to drain the three-pointer and get the open shot.
He said she is maturing as a basketball player and the coaches are working with Lesina to improve her defense and make her a more complete player.
Junior Michelle Stacey returns to the team as the squad's starting post player.
McCulloch said Stacey is a tenacious rebounder that has a great ability to grab the rebound and play aggressively. The coaching staff is working with her on her consistency in scoring after grabbing the rebound.
Senior Robyn Suzuki is expected to start at point guard. McCulloch said she brings a lot of energy and experience to the table and expects her to be a key contributor this year.
Senior Baille McCulloch is expected to start at one of the forward spots. Buzz McCulloch said she is an athletic and fast player who is a good passer and jumper and plays good defense.
Junior Krista Haban, who played for the junior varsity team last year is expected to contribute at guard.
"She's a good hard nosed player," McCulloch said.
Several other girls have shown potential to contribute to the team, including juniors Kaylie Rook and Lisa Daniels, both of whom McCulloch said are athletic and play good defense.
McCulloch will be joined on the bench by assistant coach Chris Poole, who was head coach of the JV girls last year.
McCulloch, who was without an assistant last year, said it will be nice to have another set of eyes on the court during games and at practice.
The boys varsity basketball team is tentatively set to begin its season on Dec. 6 at a tournament in Yreka.