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Indian girls look to pick up where they left off

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

Expectations have been low for the Hays High School girls' basketball team for much of the past decade.

But no longer.

After enduring six losing seasons in a row, the Indians reached new heights in 2011-12. Hays High finished 17-5, went unbeaten in February and won its first Western Athletic Conference title since 2002-03.

However, the player who served such a critical role in last season's team -- WAC Player of the Year forward Paige Lunsford -- graduated, along with lockdown defender Hanna Pfannenstiel.

Nevertheless, senior forward Taylor Herman expects the Indians to pick up where they left off in March.

After all, the Indians return seven seniors from last season's squad, as well as 56.4 percent of the team's scoring.

The Indians begin the season with a 6:30 p.m. game Thursday in the first round of the Hays City Shoot-Out against Colby at the HHS gym.

"Most of us have played together long enough that I don't think we will be affected (by the seniors graduating)," Herman said. "... I think we'll be fine. I'm not scared or anything. I'm confident."

Hays High's strength likely will be in its frontcourt.

The Indians return all-WAC senior forward Katelyn Schumacher, who averaged 9.1 points and a team-leading 7.8 rebounds per game. Herman (5.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game) and senior Emily Braun (2.5 points and 3.1 rebounds) will join her at the post.

Fourth-year head coach Kirk Maska said he expects to utilize a three-post offense often.

"We are going to add some new wrinkles and use our abilities and talents a bit more," Maska said.

The trouble will be finding ball handlers.

Last season, Hays High averaged 15.6 turnovers to 10.8 assists per game, and its guards were the worst perpetrators.

The Indians' returning guards averaged 3.2 turnovers to 0.8 assists per game last season.

"I think it will help a lot if we can work on our ball handling, because we are going to have a lot of posts," Schumacher said. "We are going to need the guards to bring it down the court."

Seniors Janae Gagnon and Megan Bird are two of the Indians' top returning guards.

Gagnon posted 4.9 points and 1.0 steals per game and had the best assist-to-turnover ratio among guards with 0.5 assists-to-1.7 turnovers. Bird was a sharp shooter, making 38.5 percent of her shots from the 3-point line and 72.2 percent from the free-throw line -- both team-bests for players who participated in 10 or more games.

Herman said last season was special, especially when it came to defying people's expectations.

"It was really great, because a lot of people doubted us," she said. "To show them we can be better and we can succeed, that was great."

Hays High's turnaround also hit a low point when the Indians fell 51-43 in the Class 5A sub-state to Newton, ending a nine-game winning streak as well as their season.

"They were pretty disappointed," Maska said. "They understood the 5A west was going to be tough, and it's going to be tougher than nails this year -- maybe even tougher than last year."

Regardless, Herman and Schumacher said they hope to improve upon last year's season, but their success will depend on each player doing her assigned task.

"I think the key is actually playing together," Schumacher said. "As long as nobody gets selfish or anything, I think we are going to play great as long as we all do our part."