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Trojans look to return to state tourney in 2008

WORTHINGTON -- After tasting the sweetness of success last season, the Worthington girls' basketball team is hungry for more this year.

With an 18-8 record, and a trip to the state tournament a year ago, the Trojans are poised to make a repeat run this year.

"It puts a hunger in the kids to want to succeed," Worthington head coach Eric Lindner said. "Any time you come off that, you have kids with high expectations. We want them to have that, but we them to be realistic about it. We have to remember that every game is going to be a battle."

While the Trojans will go into war each and every game, this year's team is battle-tested.

Losing only two players from a year ago, Worthington returns a strong nucleus of players from the team that lost to the eventual state champs by just three points at state.

"In the state, we got the last seed, so we played Becker, who won the state tournament," Lindner said. "We had a real good game against them, but we lost to them by three."

However, Lindner hopes the experience of playing at the state level will carry over to this season.

"I think that's going to be the key, that and getting them in shape," Lindner said. "In my coaching experience, I've never worked a team harder."

The Trojans will need to work hard to compete in a tough Southwest Conference this season.

"There are a lot of questions in our conference," Lindner said. "We have a lot of teams that lost a lot last year, but you always can count on good programs having good teams."

With a group of five seniors ready to lead, Worthington will return a veteran group.

The Trojans lost Ashley Aggen and Alex Wetering to graduation last year, but have players ready to step up into their roles.

"We didn't get any taller," Lindner said. "It seems like we don't have many tall kids. Alyssa (Smith) will probably step in for Alex right now, and it looks like Holli (Aggen) is going to step in for Ashley."

Aggen (junior) returns after averaging 10.7 points a game and almost five rebounds a contest.

Leading the returning players are Gabby Boever (sophomore) and Sarah Boever (senior). Gabby averaged nearly 14 points and five boards a game, while Sarah added almost 13 points and seven rebounds a contest.

"We do have a couple of sophomores that are going to be playing for us, but we do have quite a few seniors this year and that helps with the leadership," Lindner said. "They know that this is their last run, so they want to make a memory."

Rachel Pavelko (senior), Jenna Donkersloot (senior), Smith (senior) and Kaitlin Gerber (sophomore) all look to see quality minutes this season.

However, Kayla Schroder (sophomore), Kayla VanderVeen (sophomore), Rachel Malmgren (sophomore) and Brittany Boomgarden (senior) will also play into the mix for the Trojans.

"We have 11 kids on our varsity, and I really don't hesitate to put any of them in right now," Lindner said. "I don't know how things will shake out by the time the season starts."

With an up-tempo style of play, Lindner will need a deep bench and many options.

"I think another one our strengths is that we're going to be pretty deep," Lindner said. "We'll be able to run kids off the bench. Especially in the style that we play, that's what you have to do."

With the tallest player at 5-10, the Trojans will not be the tallest team in the area, but will use their quickness to their advantage.

"We're very up-tempo and we like to pressure and play defense. It just seems like we're all small and quick," Lindner said. "As a coach, you try to utilize your strengths, and that's what we have right now. We don't have a 6-foot, or 6-1 girl that we can put at the block and feed it to her."

Even with a successful season, the Trojans still have room for improvement this year.

"When we look back at what we've done as far as last year, we need to improve our defense and our rebounding," Lindner said. "Our full court defense has always been pretty good, but our half court defense has to get better at not giving teams second and third shots."

Defensively, a player of 6-feet might give the Trojans problems, but Lindner already has a game plan to counter a towering front line.

"We do a lot of help and double teaming," Lindner said. "If they can't get it past half court, they can't get it to their tall girl. That's what we try to do defensively."

While Worthington opens its season with a tough contest against Fulda on Tuesday, Lindner hopes to be playing the best basketball at the end of the season, not the beginning.

"You look at the season as improving each game, and hopefully by the end you are playing at your optimal level," Lindner said. "We had a rough start last year. At the end, we pulled what people consider an upset when we beat Marshall to get to the stat tournament. That was a big win for us."

Worthington hopes to have more big wins this season, but with a schedule that features three defending state champions (Fulda, Becker and Pipestone) and a non-conference contest against Spirit Lake, Iowa (No. 6 team in class 3A), Worthington will not have an easy road to earn their spot at the state tournament.