Nationally-Ranked Skyhawks Looking to Make History and Create a Dynasty

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Nationally-Ranked Skyhawks Looking to Make History and Create a Dynasty

Kyle Pinnell

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A decade ago the Southridge Skyhawks Girls Varsity Basketball team was a force to be reckoned with. Under head coach Michael Meek, the Skyhawks won 96 games and three state championships in four years. This season Head Coach Michael Bergmann is looking to lead another talented Skyhawk team to their own three-peat in what he believes could be their most challenging season yet.

Under Bergmann the Skyhawks are 56-3 and have won a pair of championships in the last two seasons. Those teams have had players that have gone on to play for colleges from Colorado to Washington. This years team knows what they have the opportunity to accomplish; not many high school teams have won three-straight state championships at the 6A level. What Bergmann wants to see his team come into the season with is a growth mindset.

“You don’t want to focus on what we did in the past because we are a different team and the teams in the state are different,” he said. “We just want to make sure that we’re getting better every day and we have a ton of things to work on, which is nice.”

One thing Bergmann has been emphasizing in practices early on is communication both on and off the court. Staying together as a team and maintaining the same level of chemistry from year to year has plagued other teams in their situation and Bergmann wants to make sure that it does not happen to them.

“[Bergmann’s] been talking about communication because having good communication will help keep us together,” Junior Kaelin Blair said.

An early challenge that the Hawks will face is continuity. They come into the season without two key players who graduated last year: Maggie Freeman and Natalie Hoff. With the senior players graduating and new players joining the team Bergmann emphasized the importance of roles. He says that everybody’s rolls will be expanding, from returning starters to key bench players.

This years team will be younger than ever before as they come into the season without any senior players. The two captains will be juniors McKelle Meek and Cameron Brink who were both a part of the previous two championship teams.

“[Freeman and Hoff] were two of our main leaders because they were our two seniors,” Blair said. “Now we have McKelle and Cameron as our captains so they are coming out as leaders. It will definitely be challenging without them, but we will be good.”

Some of the Skyhawks toughest games this year will take place in Phoenix, Arizona in the Nike Tournament of Champions where they find themselves in the same bracket as some of the top-ranked teams in the country.

The Hawks only loss last season came last fall in Hawaii against Centennial High School (Las Vegas). One thing that Bergmann wants to focus on for the Phoenix tournament is the team’s physicality, both mentally and physically. While he believes that the team is pretty physical already, he wants to make sure that the players have that mindset ingrained by the time they head south.

“These teams are a lot stronger, they have been there, and have been nationally ranked before,” Bergmann said. “They have a lot of confidence and they’re not going to back down. We just have to have that idea that it’s kind of like a dogfight. You know you are going to get knocked down and you have to get back up.”

While the Hawks will play some of their toughest games of the season in the Tournament of Champions, they are still keeping both eyes on another Metro League title and a third-straight state championship.

“That [Phoenix] tournament is really important, but we made goals this weekend and one of our main goals is to win the Metro League,” Bergmann said.

This season the Hawks will try to experiment with a switching scheme on defense that, if successful, would make them a much more difficult team to prepare for and play. Over the past few seasons, they have been running a lot of zone defense which funneled the opposing team straight to Brink who more often than not forced a challenging shot.

Being able to play man-on-man defense allows the Hawks to take away individual players, limit perimeter shots through switching, and defend the pick-and-roll better. However, this type of defense relies on communication and having personnel who can guard multiple positions. A year ago, isolating a player like Brink on the perimeter against a crafty guard would not end well for the Hawks. In the summer she mentioned how much her man-to-man defense has improved due to practicing and playing with the USA U-17 team. Being able to run a switching man-to-man defense along with a successful zone makes the team very unpredictable and allows for the coaching staff to be creative.

This season the target on the Skyhawks backs will be bigger than ever before. They lost three starters since the beginning of their run, but also have a talented core of sophomore and junior players who have performed at the highest level. Every night they will take on opponents who will play the game with everything they got in order to upset the defending champions. That’s just what happens when you are ranked as the 18th best girls varsity team in the nation and the top program in the state.

“I think at the end of the day it is going to be how we respond to adversity because it is going to come this year for sure,” Bergmann said. “The hard part is that when you have had success the last two years, it is really easy to go in and say ‘oh this is going to happen again,’ and forget how much work was put in and how much other people bring their best game every game. That is hard to do yourself. That will be the biggest obstacle.”