Janesville Craig’s opponents have come to expect a stingy defense.

In the past three seasons, opponents of the Cougars girls basketball team have never averaged more than 48.3 points per game. But most of Craig’s defensive success during that time has come in a half-court setting.

Beginning Friday, opponents likely will spend more time dealing with the harassment for a full 84 feet.

With a roster that lists just two upperclassmen and no players taller than 5-foot-9, expect the Cougars—coming off a 10-13 season and 9-9 campaign in the Big Eight Conference—to push the pace.

“We’re going to have to create turnovers, because we’re not big. … And we’re going to have to shoot well and play good defense. That’s probably the recipe for us,” Craig head coach Kerry Storbakken said. “I like these kids and the way they bring it—every play, every practice.”

Craig must replace three seniors, including third-team all-Big Eight selection Hannah Halverson and honorable mention Ali Carlson.

Just one player, junior Emily Pierson, remains from a 2015-16 Craig team that reached the WIAA Division 1 sectional finals two consecutive seasons.

And Storbakken will likely start one junior and four sophomores Friday when the team opens play at home against Madison La Follette.

But while the roster looks very young on paper, it’s a group that got varsity experience last year and has been playing together all the way up through the youth ranks.

“These kids are going to compete,” Storbakken said. “We’ll also probably go through some growing pains. Our goal this year is just to get better every practice and every game. And then hopefully we’ll sneak up on a few teams, because people haven’t heard a lot about these kids.”

Pierson, a 5-foot-3 guard, averaged 7.6 points per game last season and will be counted on as a leader and team captain.

Sophomore Cassie Goswick is the team’s leading returning scorer at 8.3 points per game. She and fellow sophomore Hannah Dunlavy played in nearly every game, often starting as freshmen.

Sophomores Brooke Parkhurst and Rileigh Elgas are the team’s other returning letterwinners after seeing varsity action last year.

“They’ve all played some minutes,” Storbakken said. “Although we’re starting four sophomores and a junior, I just like how this team plays together and plays with all that energy.”

The Cougars will rely on varsity newcomers—sophomores Sarah Gregg and Abbey Schrader and freshman Claudia Fieiras—off the bench.

Junior Madisyn Ingalls and sophomores Hallie King and Maddy Arrowood will provide depth for a team that will look to be on the run.

“They don’t get tired,” Storbakken said of his team. “We were pressing the whole day Saturday (in scrimmages), and the kids just wanted to press more.

“It’s fun to play that way—get the ball out, push it down the court, hit a shot and go into a press. No shot clock needed.”

The young Cougars will be tested early.

After Friday’s opener, they head straight into the teeth of the Big Eight schedule, playing front-runners Madison East and Sun Prairie and then Middleton and Janesville Parker in a two-week stretch.

“Don’t get caught up in the wins and losses early,” Storbakken said. “Our schedule is tough early. But I like this group and hopefully we can sneak up on a couple of those teams.

“We’re going to play good defense, run and get after teams. They buy into the defense, but this time there will be more pressure. They’re not going to back down.”

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