ST. GEORGE — The Hurricane Tigers girls basketball team was a mystery coming into the year. They graduated all of their starters from last season and had a brand new coaching staff coming in. The mysteries have seemed to vanish to an extent over the first half of the Region 9 season, but they still plan to fly under the radar through the end of the season.
“Nobody knew what to expect, and we didn’t know what to expect being a new coaching staff,” Hurricane head coach Shelly Thomas said. “As we watched and we figured out what strengths girls had, I think we’re starting to make those adjustments. Knowing our team, we’re able to play people in different positions then we played before, and it’s making us a stronger team.”
Those adjustments have become more evident as the season has gone on. Thomas is getting to know her players, and they are beginning to mold their style of play.
Although the Tigers are currently in sixth place, they showed some big improvements in the first half of Region 9 play. In that stretch, they had close games with both Desert Hills and Dixie that were well within reach. They only lost to Desert Hills by six and were down by one going into the fourth quarter against Dixie.
While the improvement is there, Thomas is most impressed by her team’s ability to keep their heads high. They refuse to give up on any game.
“We stay in it for a long time, like at Dixie, we were down one point going into the fourth quarter,” Thomas said. “We were struggling in keeping with them, but we never gave up, and we’re positive as a team. They’re cheering each other on, they come off the bench and they’re excited for the person that’s going in. They try to keep each other motivated and working hard together as a team.”
They have a scrappiness about them, and with a full-court press, it is at times suffocating, which can catch a team off guard. If a team thinks they’re going to just show up and get a win against the Tigers, they might be shocked.
“One of the things we’ve really focused on is the full-court press,” Thomas said. “We have a lot of fast players. We might not get the steal, but we’re really going to start to frustrate you. Maybe you’re going to come down and have to set up, but you’re always going to feel like you’re trying to rush.”
Hurricane recorded 13 steals against Pine View on Wednesday, with a number of those coming as a result of their full-court pressure. Their physicality in that full-court pressure is something that only adds to the rushed feeling that teams have when dealing with full-court defense. The Tigers aren’t afraid to dive on loose balls and get scrappy.
“I think the scrappiness comes with their desire to want the ball and to want to go score,” Thomas said.
In regard to her players, Thomas spoke highly about her seniors. Kandalyn Hinton is a player that excels in the high post area, and against teams without size she can have a big impact. She also does a great job finishing with both her left and right hand, giving her more freedom in the post. Sariya Sims has made tremendous improvements and is a great piece at the top of the Tigers press defense. Addy Lichfield has become a great team motivator, and she has risen up to become a more vocal leader. Lastly, Brooke Thomas’s outside shot has improved, which adds another weapon for the Tigers.
This season is much different for the Tigers and the reason is the new RPI ranking system. Normally, the Tigers would be looking at the season as if it were over. Instead, they can look to the end of the season and hope to play their best basketball come playoff time.
“Now you’re halfway through thinking you’re done, but the way it’s set up I’m headed to the state tournament still,” Thomas said. “I think that that’s one advantage that we have; we’ve lost a lot but we’re looking at the big picture at the end. We may or may not be up against a team in our region, and I think we can come out and surprise them because I think Region 9 always has some of the strongest teams.”
The experience they are building during region play could come in handy for the first round of the state playoffs. Don’t be surprised if Hurricane catches a team sleeping, both in the second half of region play and in the state tournament.
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