CLINTON -- When he scans his roster, Clinton High girls basketball coach Mike Halac sees lots of freshmen and sophomores. But that doesn’t concern him as much as it might some coaches in the same situation.
“We’re still young, but we’re young with experience,” Halac said Saturday as his River Queens made final preparations for tonight’s season opener against Dubuque Hempstead at W.J. Yourd Gymnasium. “We’ve pretty much got five starters back. We’ve got seven girls back this season, four who are sophomores and saw significant minutes, three of them starters.”
But, he also has three times more seniors this year than last, when the River Queens finished 5-17, 4-12 in the Mississippi Athletic Conference.
Libby Mumm was the only senior on that squad. This year, seniors Erin Wenzel and Jordan Nelson are returning starters, and Allysa Butt also played in more than half the games.
“Jordan and Erin are back as seniors and are great team leaders,” Halac said.
Wenzel, a 6-foot-1 center, led Clinton in scoring (11.2 points a game) and rebounding (9.3), the latter figure also leading the MAC. Nelson averaged 6.7 points, made a team-best 70 free throws and led the squad with 11 3-pointers and 41 assists.
“Nelson is probably the most underrated player in the program,” Halac said of his point guard.
Halac is eager to see how the sophomores do with a year of varsity experience. McKenzie Petersen, a 5-11 forward, starred in several games last year as a freshman, averaged 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds a game, and led the team in field goal shooting. Tubbs, a 6-foot forward, averaged 3.5 points and 4.0 rebounds, was second on the team with 10 3-pointers and tied Wenzel for the lead with 12 blocked shots. Hannah Burken (1.2 points a game) and Emma Gettes also were regulars as freshmen.
“I’m definitely expecting a lot more maturity on the court this year,” Halac said.
That should help the Queens in several areas. They will be better suited to play the pressure defense and uptempo offense they want. They need to improve their shooting -- nobody on the team shot better than 35.5 percent from the field. Last year’s Queens also went through periods in games where nothing seemed to go right.
“Handling the other team’s run and having our own (should improve),” Halac said. “We were susceptible to that last year.”
While he has much more returning experience this season, there also are a few newcomers on the team.
Clinton’s roster includes junior Tiffany Vesey, a move-in from Indiana.
Again this year, Halac has several freshmen on the varsity roster -- Halle Davis, McKenna Greenwalt and Shalaya Austin -- “who are doing a great job incorporating with the varsity.”
Clinton High fans also get to see the Queens three times at Yourd during the first week of the season. After tonight’s opener against Hempstead, which beat Clinton 57-21 in last year’s opener in Dubuque, Clinton plays host to the River Queen Classic on Friday and Saturday, with a first-round game against Central DeWitt.
“We’re very excited for Monday, and it’s nice to start the season with three home games,” Halac said.