Run it back but with a few tweaks.
That’s how the defending South Sound Conference champion Peninsula Seahawks girls basketball team is looking at the 2023-24 season.
“With the players we have returning, we have the ability to (win the conference championship) again,” said second-year Seahawks head coach and reigning SSC Coach of the Year Hannah Lekson. “But it’s not going to be easy with a target on us.”
Aiming for the center of that target, according to Lekson, are Gig Harbor and Timberline, as well as league runner-up, North Thurston. North Thurston returns the league’s Most Valuable Player, junior Soraya Ogaldez, who played a big part in handing the Seahawks two of their losses last year.
The Seahawks, who went 18-6 and 13-1 in conference play, lost two key players, Sophie Casello and Brooke Zimmermann, to graduation, but welcomed back a trio of All-SSC guards who Lekson is excited about: First-teamer senior Kaylia Heidel- berg (18 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game), second-teamer junior Grace Richardson (11.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG and 4.2 assists per game) and senior Daisy Peay (6.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.3 APG), who was named honorable mention. Heidelberg and Richardson combined to score more than half of the team’s total points last season.
“Three solid players like them are hard to come by these days,” Lekson said. “I can breathe a sigh of relief when those three are on the court together.”
With all the skills her team has, the one important feature they lack is something Lekson can’t coach: height. No player on the roster is above 5 foot 10 inches, which caused a problem for the Seahawks during the state tournament back in February. Lekson, a defensive-minded coach, drills her players to use their speed to get rebounds to make up for their height disadvantage. The team averaged 35 rebounds a game and outrebounded their opponents 828 to 637 last season.
“Rebounding is hard work that most players don’t want to do, so to have players who naturally want to go rebound — I’m lucky as a coach.”
It’s their skills paired with their work ethic that make Lekson believe Heidelberg and Richardson could be up for league MVP honors this season.
Lekson said a lighter schedule early last season may have contributed to ending the season losing three straight to what she called the team’s toughest opponents. To get them ready for a potential post-season run this season, Lekson arranged a grueling mix of conference and non-conference games in December. The Seahawks play seven games within 11 days and will likely play at least 11 games total in the month. The Seahawks girls team is joining the PHS boys in San Diego later in the month to play in the Surf n’ Slam Holiday Tournament Dec. 26 to Dec. 31.
“(This type of schedule early on) may impact the win-loss column, but I learned last year how important it is to have some challenging games up front, so we’re not surprised in the post-season,” Lekson said.
“They’re going to have to work harder than they’ve ever had before if they want the same success as last year.”
The Seahawks start their season later this month at the Auburn Jamboree. They host both their first home game and conference game Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. against Central Kitsap.
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