The Thunder Mountain High School girls basketball team plays in its season opener tonight against the North Pole Patriots.
The varsity team takes the court at 7 p.m. at the TMHS main gym in their only home game of December. The Falcons ship off to Sitka to take on the reigning 3A state runner-up Sitka Wolves on Friday and Saturday before playing in the Clarke Clarke Cochrane Christmas Classic two weeks later in Ketchikan.
While the season officially tipped off three weeks ago, the Falcons put in time as a team before then, undergoing a fall workout program. Third-year head coach Chandler Christensen hopes that added conditioning and nine returners will facilitate a strong start. The first conference games aren’t for another five weeks, but the team hopes to be in-sync much sooner.
“We did preseason workouts, just the conditioning, and I think that’s where a lot of our success is going to stem from,” Christensen said. “Usually, we had on average 18 girls showing up to preseason conditioning, so a lot of them came (to practice) in shape already. We didn’t have to go back and start getting everybody in shape, which takes a bulk of your practice time.”
The returning corps include forwards Nina Fenumiai (senior), Tasi Fenumiai (junior) Kira Frommherz (junior), Samantha Dilley (sophomore) and Sydnee Sartain (sophomore) and guards Taz Hauck (junior) and Khaye Garcia (sophomore), Neal Garcia (sophomore) and Iayanah Brewer (sophomore).
The starting point guard as a freshman last year, Neal Garcia is looking forward to playing with more confidence this year.
“It was a lot of pressure,” she said. “But me and my sister knew what to expect and (we) got some teammates who got our backs, too. They made it pretty easy for us, but it was a lot pressure.”
Kyra Jenkins Hayes, sidelined most of last season with a knee injury, is sitting out, but Charlee Lewis is joining the team again after a one-year hiatus.
Nina Fenumiai, an All-Southeast Conference pick last season, is poised to have her best season. Fenumiai is a dominant force in the paint, and her strength and scoring touch makes her tough defensive assignment. She torched Juneau-Douglas with 27 points last January, but the Falcons still lost that game, 46-44, underscoring the importance of getting everyone involved. Fenumiai said the team’s playbook has been retooled to address that need.
“We’ve kind of mixed up everything,” Fenumiai said after last Friday’s practice. “Our offense is based on everything that everyone can do and not just person. It’s better if we have all of us being able to do the offense instead of just a few of us. Last year it was dependent on me.”
While the offense will see some new looks, the Falcons’ defense will look similar to last season. Christensen is a proponent of full-court defensive pressure and will take advantage her quick backcourt — the Garcia twins, Hauck and Lewis — to force turnovers and create easy offense.
“That’s going to be the bulk of our game, is our defense,” Christensen said. “We expect to play hard defense all the time. We’re looking to push the ball, run out in transition (and) try to get some easy layups. The defensive intensity is going to be there again.”
The Falcons went 2-21 in 2016-17, securing both of their wins at home against West Valley. TMHS doubled its win total last season, going 4-22 with road wins over crosstown rival Juneau-Douglas and a trio of Fairbanks schools.
“We’re definitely looking to build off of some of the later successes that we had in the season last year when we beat JD and played them in a really good game at regions,” Christensen said. “We’re definitely looking to build on that and continue growing.”
2018-19 season schedule
(Home games in bold)
Dec. 13 North Pole*, 7 p.m.
Dec. 14- 15 at Sitka
Dec. 27-29 Clarke Cochrane Christmas Classic (Ketchikan)
Jan. 11-12 Colony*, 6:15 p.m.
Jan. 16 at Wasilla
Jan. 17 at Bartlett
Jan. 18-19 at Barrow
Jan. 25-26 Ketchikan*, 8 p.m.
Feb. 1-2 Juneau-Douglas*, 6:15 p.m.
Feb. 6-9 Lady Lynx Prep Shootout (Anchorage)
Feb. 15-16 at Ketchikan
March 1-2 at Juneau-Douglas
March 5-9 Region V 4A Tournament (Sitka)
*All home games will be played at the TMHS main gym.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.