Firebirds excited for ‘fresh start’ entering Year 2 under Chris Linner

photo by: Shane Jackson

Free State head coach Chris Linner speaks to his team following camp on Wednesday at FSHS on June 16, 2021.

What does head coach Chris Linner expect from this year’s Free State girls basketball team? He has no idea — and he can’t wait to see what happens.

Last year’s team, which went 6-12, leaned heavily on its seven seniors. Some of them, including Shannon Clarke and Evy Harrell, had played significant roles for multiple seasons. Now, with all of those key players gone, Linner said his team will have the chance to start fresh.

“I think the fun part about this group is that, with so many (people) gone and so many high-level players gone, there are no real expectations,” the second-year head coach said. “I think it’s going to be interesting to see what we do. I honestly don’t know what we’re going to do, but it’s going to be a fun group.”

The returning player who had the most minutes in 2020-21 is Kenzie Marcum, who will be a senior. She’s a 6-foot-1 post who made an impact in a few games last season.

Several other players showed potential in a 15-minute scrimmage that closed out the team’s summer camp on Wednesday. Juniors Marrah Spriggs and Reese Hulcher shined on both ends of the court, and sophomore guard Abby Jaimez had several strong drives to the rim. Junior forward Myla Nover-Estes should also provide a strong presence inside.

Just like their coach, the players are excited for the team’s new look.

“A fresh start,” Spriggs said. “A lot of younger kids who will bring up our program.”

“I expect a lot of improvement,” Hulcher added. “As the season progresses, we are just going to get a lot better. I think we are just going to mesh well together.”

This week, the Firebirds worked mostly on fundamentals — ball handling, shooting, spacing and getting open against pressure.

They also got the chance for some much-needed team bonding, something that most teams didn’t get last summer because of COVID-19.

Last year was especially difficult for Free State because of the coaching change; Linner was hired in July, so the team didn’t have much of a chance to get to know him. And since several members of the team play other sports in the fall, there wasn’t much time for the entire basketball team to get together. With that in mind, Linner said the summer camp represented a welcome change of pace.

“It’s hard to get everybody in the gym at once during the summer, and it’s awesome that we have so many multi-sport (athletes),” Linner said. “This camp and this week has allowed us to come together as a group, and it’s been great to see everybody.”

Going into the 2021-22 season, Linner has a better feel for the program, and his players have more trust in him.

“We understand how coach wants to do things, and we can do better,” Spriggs said.

And they’re all hoping it leads to more success on the court this winter.

“I can already see (during the camp) the progression of people getting out of their heads,” Hulcher said. “Just getting more comfortable with each other and applying the skills that we’ve learned.”

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