When the Lady Bison take the court Friday for their season opener against Powell, fans can expect to see the same speed, athleticism and defensive prowess that are the hallmarks of head coach Michelle Dahlberg’s program.
What will look decidedly unusual, however, is the lack of seniors on the roster. This year, for the first time in Dahlberg’s 17 seasons with the Lady Bison, there are no seniors on the team.
“It’s very different,” Dahlberg said during practice Dec. 3. “We have the exact same numbers as last year, but we will miss not having those seniors and the experience and consistency they bring.”
Instead, Dahlberg will rely on a stable of players whom she describes as “extremely fast and extremely athletic.”
The 2019-20 Lady Bison suffered a cascade of injuries and illnesses, which meant that many underclassmen saw significant playing time — experience that now seems invaluable.
Juniors Lexi Rule, Kendall Tietjen and Danica Boyce make up the trio that Dahlberg will look to for leadership on and off the court.
“We know it’s a lot of responsibility,” Tietjen said, “but we work so well together and we have such an amazing team that we want to be leaders for them.”
Rule and Tietjen both appeared in 22 of the team’s 23 games last year and saw their minutes increase throughout the season. Both are coming off of stellar cross-country seasons, and they will bring the speed they are known for to the court. They are also known for pushing one another, and that work ethic can be contagious too.
“Those girls who do individual sports — the cross-country runners, the swimmers — they are just so tough,” Dahlberg said. “Their work ethic is so tough.”
She also expects the two to come up with plenty of offensive rebounds.
Boyce played for the Lady Bison as a freshman and appeared in two varsity games. She played for Lander last season, where she played in 24 of the team’s 25 games, and twice over the course of the season, she shot better than 80% from the field.
For her part, Boyce is thrilled to be wearing black and gold again.
“I’m so excited to be back,” she said.
And Dahlberg is glad to see her back, too, noting that Boyce fell right back in with her teammates and understands the program and style of play.
Sophomore Cantrell Rosalez also saw action last year as a freshman.
Dahlberg makes no bones about the lack of experience on the team, but she’s taking the long view.
“When you have so much youth, there is so much room for growth and we will see these girls really grow this year,” Dahlberg said.
Rule said there is no denying the team’s youth, but that’s not what’s on her mind when she steps onto the court.
“It’s about playing for our team,” she said.
The team is practicing in “pods” so that if one girl tests positive for the coronavirus, the whole team isn’t forced to quarantine. Conference-wide, Dahlberg said, teams are moving away from forming a ninth-grade team. Instead, coaches are moving to a varsity, JV and C squad format to give themselves more flexibility in filling out rosters when athletes are inevitably out. Right now, Dahlberg is working with 15 or 16 athletes who could play varsity minutes this season. That’s an unusually high number, but Dahlberg is preparing for different scenarios and different mixes of athletes being out.
“All the coaches are facing the same challenges,” she said. “We are all trying to navigate this and give kids the best opportunity to play ball.”
Typically, the team would open the season at the East-West Tournament, but all tournaments have been canceled. Instead, Buffalo High School will host Powell on Friday night, with both the girls and boys teams in action.
“One thing about Buffalo, we don’t often have size,” Dahlberg said, “But we’re always fast and athletic. We should be extremely competitive this year.”