Plenty of talent returns from great girls Falcon team

"Lindsay Binford (right) tries to defend against Coach Nancy Ricketts. Despite the height difference, Ricketts completed her pass.Matt Johnson/staff photosFour starters are gone from the best South Whidbey girls basketball team in over a decade, but coach Nancy Ricketts doesn't sound the least bit concerned as the 2000-2001 season begins this weekend.We've got eight varsity players from that state team, she said. They saw a lot of action. The experience of the district and state tournaments gave them another half season under their belts.Last March the Falcons capped their best season in 11 years with an eighth place finish in the state Class A tournament at Yakima. They reached state by taking fifth in the Bi-District Tournament after finishing a close third in the tough North Cascades Conference. That team was led by the now-departed Kelsey Ellis, Lindsay Sievers, Sierra Tornga and Daylene Waterman.But that was then and this is now. And coach Ricketts isn't complaining about what she's working with this year. Who could, with a center position anchored by Hilary Wick?Wick, a strong 6-footer, is only a junior but has two full years of varsity starting experience. Ricketts said Wick spent the off-season broadening her game, and now has a much-improved outside shot to go with her formidable inside skills.She should be a dominant force in the league, Ricketts said.At point guard will be another junior, Jaci Gutzmer, a fast, aggressive player who will play in tandem with sophomore Julie Robinson. Playing up front will be senior Hayley Gabelein, who was injured late last year but is becoming a real offensive threat, Ricketts said. Joining her will be Melissa Poolman, last year's sixth man who moved into a starting role this year.Also playing big roles will be the varsity's only other senior, Sam Watson, who brings rebounding experience and court savvy to the floor. She uses her brain out there, Ricketts said.Shannon Skouras, a sophomore, is an aggressive player hard to keep away from the hoop, while Lindsay Binford is expected to be one of the best rebounders in the league.All of the above played varsity roles last year. Rounding out this year's varsity team are Erin Iddins, a smart player with an excellent outside shot; Kelsey Robinson, a guard skilled at taking the ball up court; Lauren Johnson, who should contribute in the front court; and the 12th player, Karen Schwager.The team had to wait a couple of weeks for soccer players to finish their outstanding season, in which they took third place in state. But Ricketts didn't mind waiting for the likes of Binford, Skouras and Gutzmer. It shows their competitive and winning spirit, she said.Because the team is young and due to the late infusion of soccer talent, Ricketts said the Falcons may be a week or so away from blending smoothly into a solid unit. But she's confident that this year's Falcon squad will be highly competitive in the North Cascades Conference.Last year's number two team, Nooksack Valley, returns all five starters and is the pre-season favorite to win it all. Last year's league champ, Lynden Christian, lost most of its starters but never has trouble reloading with talented players. Ricketts sees the Falcons as finishing somewhere in the top half of the league and advancing to the playoffs again. She's not even conceding anything to Nooksack. We can match their speed, she said.The Falcons played their first game last night at Coupeville. They make their home debut tonight, Dec. 2, when Bellevue Christian visits Erikson Gymnasium. The girls varsity game is at 6:15, followed by boys varsity action. "

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