By Ray Hamill — Like many basketball teams this early in the season, the McKinleyville girls are still a work in progress with plenty of questions.
The Panthers, who have played just one game so far, a 53-46 loss at Red Bluff, will be hoping for at least some answers this week when they play at the Arcata tournament, which gets under way on Thursday.
The round-robin, four-team tournament guarantees the Panthers three games in three days, something the players have been waiting to see.
“They’re itching to play somebody else,” head coach Tony McClure said.
“Even though we have a lot of returners back, it still feels like a new team, and we’re still trying to figure out our team chemistry. We’re still trying to figure out our identity for sure.”
To get there, the Panthers will rely on their five seniors, who are “all trying to learn to be leaders,” according to their coach, as well as a core group of returning juniors and a couple of younger players who appear ready to impress at the varsity level.
The one thing the Panthers are likely to have more than anything is depth.
“We have a lot of weapons, a lot of different girls we can throw out there, and they all do different things,” McClure said. “I think we’ll shoot the ball pretty well. Offensively I feel like we’ve got a lot of threats and girls that can knock down shots, and defensively we’re quick enough to run our full-court defense and keep pressure on teams.”
What the Mack girls need is game time and the opportunity to begin to develop that team chemistry.
Leading the way are five seniors who will be expected to play a major role this winter, including Hailee Henry, Hope Kibby, Rayn Tripp, Rian Heenan and Kyrie Weigand.
McClure will also call heavily on his returning juniors, Cameron Heenan, Victoria Claros and Kylie Townsend, each of whom is expected to take on a bigger role this winter.
“I feel like all three of those ladies will all improve and contribute,” the head coach said.
The Panthers, who open this week’s tournament against Foothill on Thursday at 6 p.m., also have two new assistant coaches this season — Sage Rios and Chloe Tripp — each of whom brings a wealth of basketball knowledge and experience to the sideline.
And that’s not all they bring.
“They bring a little more energy to practice,” McClurg said.
The coach added he’s nowhere near set on a starting lineup, and says for now it will change from game to game based on matchups.
“That’s where we are,” he said. “We’re deep. I feel we can call on a lot of girls.”
Juniors Ashley Ballew and Christina Bigos, as well as sophomore Kathryn Tinney and freshman Trinity Preston, round out a 13-player roster.
The Panthers will also play Arcata on Friday night and Mazama on Saturday.