Galena High girls basketball on rise
There are no real superstars here, just a talented cast that has come together to help the Galena High School girls basketball team soar to a 24-4 record and division championship already this season.
And tonight the Grizzlies – a team on the rise – will get a chance to keep climbing when they host Wooster in the do-or-die opening round of the Northern 4A zone tournament.
“We’re all pretty excited,” junior point guard Annie Baxter said of tonight’s 7 p.m. contest. “We’re ready to compete.
“We knew deep down we’d have a good team this year, but we also knew there would be a lot of other good teams, and we knew we’d have to come out every night and play.”
The Division I champion Grizzlies must get past Wooster (10-17), a team they defeated 63-31 back on Dec. 16. The Colts have improved since then, coach Karen Friel pointed out.
“Wooster is a different team these days. I think beating Reno (52-49 on Jan. 15) helped their confidence,” Galena’s fourth-year varsity coach said. “If they hang with you, they’re the type of team that will gain more and more confidence the longer the game goes on. We hope to get on them early and keep the pressure on them for four quarters.”
Last year Galena entered the postseason as a young and largely unknown team, but it advanced to the zone finals before losing to McQueen, 63-45. The Grizzlies lost 49-41 to Bishop Gorman in the first round at state to cap off a 20-11 season that was the program’s best ever – until now.
With nine veterans back from last year, the Grizzlies have been no surprise around the Northern 4A this season.
“Karen is an excellent coach, she’s got some talented kids and they believe in what they’re doing,” said Carson coach Paul Croghan, whose Senators have split two games with the Grizzlies this season. “They’ve got size and some more size, and they’re basically still a young team.”
“Karen’s built a good young team, and I can’t see them doing anything except get better,” Douglas coach Werner Christen said.
There are no true stars. Kellie Burton, a 6-foot-1 junior who earned second-team all-division honors last season, is the leading scorer with a 13-point average. Whitney Williams, a 6-0 senior, follows with a 9-point average; Joanna Hixon, a 5-10 freshman guard, is averaging 8; junior guard Jayleen Chen is averaging 7; Janelle Mack, a 5-10 senior forward, is averaging 5 points and 8 rebounds; and 5-9 senior forward Kirsten Drury averages 5 points.
“They’re a hard team to set up a game plan for, because they have a lot of different people who can hurt you,” Christen said.
That’s exactly what the Grizzlies like to hear.
“That’s the nice thing about this team,” said Friel, a Tonopah High graduate who set the University of Nevada women’s career assists record between 1983-87. “When we put people in, we know everybody can do something.”
For example, Burton scored four points against Sparks on Feb. 8, but Williams had 17 in Galena’s division-clinching 56-32 win at home against Sparks.
“Our scoring is a lot more spread around now,” Williams said. “We still look to Kellie, but our other posts have been stepping it up and our guards are stepping it up, too.”
The Grizzlies are strong at the post – and deep.
“Kirsten and Amanda (Twitchell, a 5-11 senior) do such a good job when they come in the game. I really believe they would start for a lot of other teams in this league,” Friel said. “And Janelle does a lot of dirty work for us. She gets rebounds, she usually guards the other team’s best player, and she can score.”
Mack was certainly a force on Dec. 7, when she grabbed 13 rebounds and eight steals in Galena’s 59-47 win over high-powered Reno.
“Beating Reno this year really helped our confidence,” Baxter said. “Before that game, we didn’t really know if we could beat them.”
Chen and Baxter are tenacious on the defensive end.
“Baxter is real good defensively,” Christen said of Baxter. “She got into foul trouble early when we played earlier this season. We were able to stay with them for three quarters, but then she came back in and just seemed to get the machine running.”
Yes, this has been a big season for the Grizzlies and it’s still going.
“I’ve enjoyed this season,” Friel said. “Now, hopefully, we can keep it going another couple of weeks.”