WORTHINGTON -- Nine letter winners return to the Worthington Trojans high school girls basketball squad this winter, including a healthy number of important players from a year ago. That means success is expected, and leading scorer Olivia Hayenga -- now a senior -- isn’t going to hide her enthusiasm.

“I’m excited. We’re a lot different than last year,” she gushed at a recent practice. “I’m looking to win a lot of games this year. We’re very athletic. I think we’ve got everything. We’re not too worried.”

It is the job of a teen-age athlete to aim high. But it is the job of a coach to think of ways to improve, no matter how talented his players might be. Veteran head coach Eric Lindner, who began his run with the Trojans girls basketball team in the 1989-90 season, wants to see less dribbling and more passing this season.

As teammates line up to watch, a group of Worthington High School girls basketball players compete in a practice drill. Doug Wolter/The Globe
As teammates line up to watch, a group of Worthington High School girls basketball players compete in a practice drill. Doug Wolter/The Globe

If a player makes a cut to the basket, Lindner wants to see it end in success at a higher rate than last year. The Trojans missed too many layups in 2020-21, he believes, and last week he had his girls working specifically on layup drills. Tough, spirited defense is always a hallmark with the Trojans, but Lindner said the intensity became just a little too sporadic at times last year. Mental toughness is the key.

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The Trojans, 14-5 last season, begin the new campaign with a 4 p.m. game against Sibley-Ocheyedan Saturday at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington.

Returning WHS letter winners include Hayenga, Tarren Spartz, Ellie Weg, Brooklyn Scheitel-Taylor, Kamryn Spartz, Dasia Potter, Karissa Bickett, Aisha Zeidi and Madison Beckmann. Hayenga and Scheitel-Taylor are experienced guards. Spartz and Weg are experienced inside players.

Hayenga is dangerous on offense. She can shoot from anywhere, she can penetrate to the basket, and she can create her own opportunities. Lindner wants to see her take a step forward defensively. She spent too much time on the bench, he said, in foul trouble.

Spartz is a consistent performer and a strong rebounder. Weg is another productive player around the basket. She’s looking for a primary move she can perfect to get more opportunities.

Scheitel-Taylor, said Lindner, “makes the team go.” She’s a tempo-setter and does many good things that don’t always show up on the stat sheet.

“I think we’ve got a combination of quickness and experience, as well as height,” said Lindner. “I think this year we’ll be a bigger team than we’ve had in the past.”

That means the Trojans will attempt to work the ball inside more often, but they’re still going to play with an up-tempo pace. On defense, they’ll give opponents more zone looks.

“We’re really going to work hard on being scrappy,” Linder said. “I think, physically, we’ve got some kids who are strong. But I think mostly we’re going to try to be tougher, and more mentally tough.

“We’ve got depth, the things that we need. I don’t think we’re as deep in the guards and wings, unless our younger kids make some leaps,” he said.

If there’s a specific goal for this Trojans girls basketball team, it’s to win a section tournament game. Typically, Worthington -- which plays few schools of its size largely because of the team is located in the southwestern corner of the state -- is often overlooked at seeding time. The best way to counter that is to win more section tournament contests.

One benefit for the Trojans (and this is characteristic of theirs virtually every year) is that they play with energy.

“I think they enjoy competing,” said Lindner.

That, of course, is the preferred attitude for a coach who likes to play an aggressive, up-tempo style.

Summed Lindner: “And that’s one of the reasons we play that way.”