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Craig girls basketball expects early challenge

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JOHN N. BARRY
November 21, 2007
— Mark Marsden doesn’t want to sound like a broken record, but the refrain is familiar for the Janesville Craig girls basketball team.

Survive a difficult early schedule and build for the second half of the season again the key phrase.


“I know it seems like I say this every year, but I really believe we have a chance to be a pretty solid basketball team by the end of the season,” Marsden said.


“We’re a pretty young team, and we’re battling a couple injuries right now. The problem is, we have to be ready to play right away because our schedule early on is very difficult.”


The Cougars, 15-6 a year ago and third in the Big Eight Conference, open the season at 6:15 p.m. Saturday against Mukwonago as part of the Big Eight Shootout at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.


Marsden returns two starters, but only 2007 first-team all-conference guard Kristy Benson is healthy. Senior Danielle Straw will miss the start of the season because of a deep bone bruise in her ankle, which she suffered during the volleyball season.


The 5-foot-7 Benson led the team in rebounding, steals and assists last year and again will run the point for the Cougars.


“Kristy worked really hard on her game in the summer on her outside shot, which when you look at the rest of her game, makes her a tough match-up for teams,” Marsden said. “She can also hit the mid-range jumper or post up.


“Kristy’s a third-year varsity player and a captain on this team. That means she has to be a leader, as well.”


Straw was Craig’s third-leading scorer last season. The 5-11 senior provides a dual threat with her ability to make the outside shot, but she has been slow to recover from what was originally diagnosed as a stress fracture.


“We’re not pushing it because we don’t want her coming back too soon,” Marsden said of Straw. “When she’s ready and can go, she definitely makes us a better team.”


Marsden has a number of players battling for the remaining starting spots. Senior Lauren McQueen will likely open in the backcourt along with Benson, while 5-11 senior Alexis Hilden, 6-0 sophomore Anne Morgan and 5-11 senior Sofia Sanchez are prime candidates for the post.


Sanchez, the Big Eight Player of the Year in volleyball, didn’t play basketball the last two years in order to concentrate on volleyball.


“Sofia looked real good in our scrimmage, especially on the defensive end,” Marsden said. “She’s real athletic and gives us another body underneath.


“Lauren is a little more settled now and has worked hard on her shooting. Anne is coming off a stress fracture, but she’s working hard and is doing a really nice job right now.


“Alexis is definitely going to play a bigger role. She could be a starter.”


Sophomore Whitney Storbakken earned valuable minutes as a freshman a year ago and could start until Straw returns. Marsden said the 5-7 guard played well in the four-team scrimmage and worked hard in the summer.


Sophomores Hailey Smith and Whitney Oliver, along with junior Jill Roth and senior Brianna Gohlke, also are expected to get playing time.


The 11-player roster does have its challenges.


“I think chemistry is worth a lot, and I think we’ve got great chemistry with this team,” Marsden said. “There are things we need to work on, obviously, but I like our nucleus.”


Marsden expects Middleton and Janesville Parker, ranked fourth and sixth in coaches’ presseason poll, to battle for bragging rights in the Big Eight. Craig plays at Middleton in the conference opener Friday, Nov. 30.


“Three of our first four games are on the road, and we get Middleton and Parker in our first six games,” Marsden said. “We’re going to be a little shorthanded without Danielle, but that’s going to give other girls the opportunity to step up.”


Craig’s schedule:


(7:30 p.m. unless indicated)


NOVEMBER: x-24—Mukwonago (Big Eight Shootout at the Alliant Center), 6:15 p.m.; 30—At Middleton.


DECEMBER: 1—Madison Memorial; 6—At Beloit Memorial; x-11—Campbellsport, 7 p.m.; 14—Janesville Parker; 15—At Madison West; 20—Sun Prairie; x-28—West Allis Hale (Craig Invitational), 7:45 p.m.; x-29—Oregon or West Bend West, 6 or 7:45 p.m.


JANUARY: 3—At Madison East; 8—Madison La Follette, 5:45 p.m.; 18—Middleton; 24—At Madison Memorial; 26—Beloit Memorial; 29—At Janesville Parker.


FEBRUARY: 1—Madison West; 7—At Sun Prairie; 9—Madison East, 2:45 p.m.; 14—At Madison La Follette.



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