One thing about Nate Tolbert: He has high hopes every year, and this year’s goal is a huge one.
Tolbert, who guided the Carson girls to a 13-11 overall record and second place in the Sierra League last season, wants to end this season in Lawlor Events Center.
“The state tournament is in the north this year, which means we get two teams,” Tolbert said. “I’d like to be one of the two teams there.”
It sounds far-fetched, but it really isn’t when you look at the big picture. Carson won eight of 10 games against Sierra League opponenta a year ago, sweeping Douglas, Wooster, Galena and Damonte Ranch and getting swept by Bishop Manogue (77-56 and 62-44). Against High Desert teams, Carson went 3-3 in the regular season, beating Hug, McQueen and North Valleys and losing to Reno (60-13), Reed (65-37) and Spanish Springs (52-35). Carson also lost a first-round home playoff game to Spanish Springs.
Getting past Reno or Reed will be one big undertaking. Reno, 27-3 last year, is the defending state champ, and the Raiders are always tough.
“I’m excited to play Reno,” said Tolbert of the Dec. 3 game at Morse Burley Gym. “They beat us bad last year. We have something to prove. It’s definitely a hard way to start the season. I think we’ll do better this time around.
“The kids are excited to get started. We spent the whole summer working on stuff, working on our system. We’ve fine-tuned what we’re doing. We have a long way to go. It’s early. We have a lot of talent and a lot of speed. Speed and athleticism are our strengths. There will be times where we’ll be able to out-athletic teams. There will be other times where we’ll have to be disciplined and execute. I think on the whole we’re going to be a better team.”
One thing in Tolbert’s favor is that he has nine players back, including his best player, Savannah Smith, who averaged 14 points a game last year. Madison Preston (5.7), Natali Salas (6.3), Gina Peacock (4.9), Carly Bachmann (3.3), Kayla Aikins (1.8), Cameron Sievers (1.2), Haley Ridgely (0.9) and Abi Greene (0.2) also return. Sievers missed most of the season with a back injury, while Ridgely was a late-season call-up from the JV squad. New to the roster are Michelle Perry, Lindy Lehman, Teresa Boehmer and Ivy Pembrook.
Smith is quick and likes to get to the basket. Tolbert said she has been working on other parts of her game.
“She knows where the rim is and how to get to it,” Tolbert said. “She’s been working on her outside shot. When you look at our roster, the one thing that jumps out at you is Savannah.”
Truth be told, Smith needs to be a little more selfish. She is a team player, always looking to pass first. She is the only proven scorer on the squad, however, and she needs to assert herself at that end of the floor.
Tolbert needs more offensive production from both Peacock and Preston.
“Gina has worked hard on her shot,” Tolbert said. “She has kind of a crazy form (shot). When she got tired, it affected her form. Madison needs to look to shoot a little more. She had some flashes offensively last year. She did a great job defensively.”
Tolbert has been pleased with newcomers Pembrook, Perry and Lehman.
“Ivy is fast and aggressive,” Tolbert said. “Lindy is fast and tall. Michelle is a sleeper. She really knows the game.”
Right now, Smith is joined by Preston, Bachmann and Peacock in the starting lineup. The fifth starter remains up in the air, Tolbert said.
“The fifth spot will depend on who we play, and whether we want to go big or small,” Tolbert said. “It could be Aikins, it could be Perry or it could be Natalie. Our rotation this year will be based on defense. On offense, I don’t think we lose much when we sub. I have confidence that all our girls are pretty good offensive players and will contribute in their own way.
“We are going to have to play full-court defense. The key is pressuring the ball. We’ll probably be behind early because teams will beat the press. We’ll run their legs off and by the third and fourth quarter we’ll start taking control of the game. That’s the plan anyhow. We’re making sure everybody understands where they are supposed to be. Last year our seniors (Elena Thurman and Madison Saarem) were defensive-minded. This year, our seniors seem to be more offensive-minded. We have to work on their defensive skills.”