This year, perhaps more than ever, Gary Hammer is glad he is Lawrence High's girls basketball coach.
"This team has a lot of firepower, inside and outside," Hammer said. "We have people that can put the ball in the hole, and we have people that can play tough defense. I wouldn't want to play against this team."
This team, the defending Class 6A state champion and the preseason No. 1 in the state coaches' poll, returns three starters and its top substitute. The starters seniors Lindsay Lawton, Jill Oelschlager and Jennifer Trapp enter their third year of varsity competition.
"I have higher expectations than last year," Hammer said. "We have so much experience. As sophomores, these seniors Jill, Lindsay and Jennifer played a lot of minutes and they started last year."
Lawton, 5-foot-5, returns at the point. Oelschlager, 5-8, is a shooting guard and Trapp, 6-1, plays center. Tracie Lee, a 5-9 junior, was Lawrence's top forward substitute. Kathy O'Konski, a 5-11 senior forward, also logged some varsity minutes.
KAMI LOGAN, a 5-5 senior guard-forward, played entirely on the junior varsity last season.
Hammer said he planned to start Lawton, Oelschlager, Trapp, Lee and O'Konski or Logan, depending on the opposing lineup.
"I have six girls that will be playing a lot," Hammer said. "I could start tall or I could start smaller. Right now, it's too early to tell who the fifth one is. We have a lot of flexibility. Against a taller team, I might play a taller lineup. I could start tall with Kathy or short with Kami."
Whatever the lineup, Hammer predicted the Lions would play a quicker game.
"We have some good speed, some good height," he said. "I want to play an up-tempo game. We'll press more, play more man-to-man defense. I think a big key this year will be how the bench comes through. Because we're going to be going at a faster pace, the girls will get tired. We'll need our bench to give them breathers. That will be a big key for us."
THE LHS BENCH is comprised of: senior Lana Hutchins (5-6, guard) and juniors Amy Spurlock (5-6, guard), Kristina Johnson (5-6, guard) and Jamie Smith (5-10, forward).
But Hammer will rely most heavily on his five returning letter-winners: Lawton, Oelschlager, Trapp, Lee and O'Konski.
"Our five returning lettermen, I expect a lot from them," Hammer said. "I think Lindsay Lawton is one of the best point guards in the state. Jennifer is probably the quickest big man around. I expect a lot from her. She's strong inside, and she can score and rebound. Tracie's very offense-minded, and she's very quick. And Jill is one of the best shooting guards in the state. She does so many things for us.
"I'd rather have them than play against them. If we can play as a team, if we play together, things will click, and we'll be tough to beat. That's my job. I really feel like they want to have a great year. They want to get back to state."
The Lions open Monday at Kansas City Washington.
LHS GIRLS BASKETBALL ROSTER
Seniors: Lana Hutchins, Lindsay Lawton, Kami Logan, Jill Oelschlager, Kathy O'Konski, Jennifer Trapp.
Juniors: Kristina Johnson, Tracie Lee, Jamie Smith, Amy Spurlock.
Juniors: Stephanie Buchleitner, Hiedi Blanck, Tina Esparza, Stacey Lee, Keri Magnuson, Catherine Pees, Nicky Smith.
Sophomore: Marjy Givens.
LHS GIRLS BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
All game 6 p.m. JV, approx. 7:30 varsity
(Except where noted)
December: 7 at KC Washington. 10 at Olathe East. 17 SM East. 21 at Leavenworth (non league), 4:30 p.m.
January: 4 at Topeka Seaman. 7 at Olathe North. 15 SM North. 21 at Olathe South. 25 Shawnee Heights. 28-30 at Emporia Glacier's Edge Tournament.
February: 3 Topeka. 4 SM West. 9 at Emporia. 11 at SM Northwest. 15 SM Miege. 18 Leavenworth. 22 St. Joseph, Mo., Central, 5:30 p.m. 25 at SM South.