Lady Spartans back in action -- Winter Sports Preview

Penny Gienger is living one of those court dreams that even NBA professional basketball coaches rarely imagine.

Nearly every player from the district- qualifying Spartan hoopsters of last winter are back on the hardwood for another year with the blue and gold this season.

When last season came to a close – Gienger’s 13th at the helm for the Spartan girls – the Bainbridge coach spoke no laments of departing seniors. There were no goodbyes at graduation; no “How do we replace her?” strategy sessions.

That’s right; except for a couple of players who opted not to turn out this season, the Spartan girls are back.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” Gienger said. “Everybody’s back. They’ve come in with a great attitude to go for it.”

The big returning senior class includes forwards Alice Russell and Tiana Gallagher, and guards Morgan Zajonc, Toren Johnson and Haley Wiggins. Add to that the returning varsity play of Allie Picha, and the Spartans are a force to be reckoned with in the Metro League.

Rounding out the varsity are newcomer senior Emily White and transfer junior Nicole Mitchell; last year’s JV leading scorer Angela Keller; two sophomore JV step-ups, Kaitlin Bailey and Kari Pierce; and freshman Jacquie Manalia.

Playing in the private school half of the Metro League can be a thorn in the side of the lone public school coach, but Gienger said the Spartans have some experience on their side this year.

“We’ve been beat up quite a bit in this league,” she said, hinting that Bainbridge may be looking for a little payback this time around.

“Each of the private schools has one Division I player,” Gienger said. “It’s just a matter of who’s playing around them.”

Making up the Mountain (private school) Division of Metro for the 2003-04 season, along with Bainbridge, are Blanchet, Eastside Catholic, Lakeside, Holy Names, and Seattle Prep. In the Sound (public school) Division – which Bainbridge will play one game each during the regular season – are Chief Sealth, Cleveland, Ingraham, Nathan Hale, Rainier Beach and West Seattle.

The Mountain Division made an impressive showing at State last year, finishing first and second, with Lakeside defeating Seattle Prep in the 3A championships.

“Lakeside has to be the favorite,” Gienger said. “Prep lost a lot, but those (private schools) just reload.”

As for the Spartans, Gienger said she is watching the players bring a real excitement to the game.

“They’re working hard, talking, doing what we ask them to do,” she said.

Defense is one of the aspects of the Spartan game that Gienger is the most excited about. She spent the off season studying up a matching zone defense. And, when the Bainbridge Park District hired new director Terry Lande, she spent some time talking girls hoops with him.

You might say Lande has had some coaching experience -- he left Oregon as the most successful high school girls basketball coach in the state’s 3A division history. In 10 years of coaching at Eugene’s Marist High School, Lande compiled a 245-28 record, including three state titles – 1996, 1997 and 1999.

Gienger said that Lande used the complex matching zone at Marist, and was enthusiastic to step in at Bainbridge to help out this season.

“Terry brings another level of excitement to the team,” Gienger said.

“We were right in most of the games last year,” she said. “Maybe we have it to push us over the top of those close ones this year.”

With just 26 players turning out for all three teams this season – varsity, junior varsity and C-team – Gienger opted to stick with two 13-player squads at the varsity and JV level, and forego a C-team.

“We’ve always struggled to maintain a C-team (due to numbers),” she said. The coach noted that the junior varsity is packed full of some strong players for the Spartan future, including 10 freshmen.

Making up the junior varsity squad this year are junior Chloe Frieda, sophomores Emily Pierce and Danielle Byron, and freshmen Megan Burras, Julia Weese, Angela Failla, Caitlyn Salo, Lindsey Bratonia, Tess Sadowsky, Callie McKenzie, Adrienne Montoya, Lindsey Montoya and Kerry Hillier.

Joining forces as junior varsity co-coaches this season are Kim Beemer and Kelly Beemer. Kelly was C-team coach for Bainbridge last year, and sister Kim is coming off two seasons playing at Skagit Valley Community College. Both women played for the Spartans during their high school years. Also returning to help out at the varsity coaching level for Gienger is Ben deGuzman.

Spartan fans can get a taste of preseason hoops this Saturday at BHS as the Bainbridge girls take part in a Blue-Gold scrimmage, beginning at 11:30 a.m.

Bainbridge opens play in earnest next Wednesday evening with a battle at Nathan Hale. The home opener is Friday, Dec. 5, against West Seattle.

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