High School Sports

Freshman phenoms impact Mid-Columbia girls races

Colette Gall didn't have a ton of expectations for the 2010-11 girls basketball season.

Gall knew she had a chance to be on varsity, but she didn't know how big her role would be and what exactly it would entail.

The Hanford freshman, though, has started every game and leads her team in scoring this season.

"I just came and worked hard and figured I'd see what I could get done," Gall said. "I never imagined I'd be scoring this much."

Gall is pouring in 12.7 points per game, which is fifth in CBBN 3A. She scored a career-high 20 points in an 50-44 win against Pasco on Jan. 15.

While Gall has been turning the heads of opposing players and coaches throughout the season with her play, it wasn't the easiest of transitions in the beginning.

"The physical part was the hardest," the 5-foot-10 starting center said. "And how loud it is. In middle school, you wanted to win, but it is not like you had to -- like varsity."

That transition from middle school basketball to the high school varsity team is one most players get a year or two to work through.

But for Gall and a surprisingly large crop of freshman varsity players in the area, they weren't afforded playing junior varsity basketball this season.

"It's a lot of pressure to put on them," Grandview coach Paul Van Pelt said. "Do you leave them down (at JV) and let them get that experience? Or do you feed them to the wolves and hope they can contribute and get you that win?"

Van Pelt has a star freshman on his team as well, as guard Marissa Caballero is averaging 16.4 points -- fourth in the CWAC -- and has quickly turned into a team leader.

Caballero also has had to make some adjustments, mainly to the physical play of varsity basketball. But she has transitioned easily because of her play in summer ball.

Her parents, Isidro and Sulema Caballero, had some concerns coming into the season.

"Initially, I wanted her to compete at the highest level she was capable of," Isidro Caballero said. "We knew she'd either work her way into (varsity) or help contribute, but we didn't think she'd start off right from the get go."

Neither Hanford nor Grandview features a tremendous amount of experienced players, which has opened the door for three freshmen to be on each varsity team.

"I would say it is a tough situation for a 14-year-old to take," Isidro Caballero said. "Sometimes you hope that these older girls will step into a leadership role, but sometimes you have to step into that leadership role."

Not all freshmen varsity players in the area are being asked to shoulder the burden of scoring lots of points, though.

Kennedy Corrigan and Lauren Perry at Richland are role players, utilized more for their defense and rebounding.

"They are not only playing on a varsity team," Richland coach Jerry Riggs said, "but on a team that is competitive, playing up tempo, playing good defense and scoring a lot of points. As freshmen, they are more comfortable playing that role, rather than scoring a ton.

"It is a nice way to contribute to a team and not have to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders."

Kamiakin is in a similar situation, as freshmen Amanda Miller, Melanie Oord and Sira Toure have all started at times this season. They are but three of the Braves' five varsity freshmen.

Because of injuries all three have logged important minutes this season, giving Kamiakin unprecendented depth for the CBBN.

"I think the good thing is, they have experienced (pressure) from the very start," Kamiakin coach Tammy Hutchison said. "They've had to all season. We had to rely on them to be on the court in these situations. It is just what we do now and they realize they are going to need to be counted on."

While the players are having to adapt to the faster-paced, more physical brand of basketball at the high school level, the coaches are having to remind themselves they are dealing with younger, less-experienced girls.

"I don't know know that I coach them any differently, but I keep in mind that their experiences are limited," Columbia-Burbank coach John Muchlinski said.

Muchlinksi's team has a freshman starter in Rachel Roberts and another contributing freshman in Julie Mosqueda, who scored 21 points in a win Saturday.

"A lot of situations with them are teaching situations," he said, "rather than 'What are you doing?' type things. You have to help; you have to be more of a teacher because their experience is limited."

For most of these coaches, having freshmen on varsity is a new experience. Whether it is cyclical or the rise of summer basketball in the area, there was no consensus, just that all the freshmen earned their spots and are contributing.

For Hanford's Gall, one thing that has helped her is teammate Savanna Steele, a sophomore point guard who also started as a freshman.

"Most advice that I give her is encouraging her if she does mess up," Steele said, "and just try to keep her from getting down on herself.

"She has picked everything up really quick. She's dealt with it great, with being young and overcoming everything."

Hanford coach Evan Woodward worked with Gall throughout the summer, and he and his staff knew early on that she would play on varsity and most likely contribute, though they didn't know if it would be quite this much.

"(Gall's) skill set has proved she can definitely handle it," Woodward said. "Making that leap from eighth grade basketball to varsity in the CBBN is pretty impressive."

In any league, for that matter.

Impact freshmen from throughout the Mid-Columbia region:

Class 4A

-- Richland: Kennedy Corrigan, Lauren Perry, Rylee DeWitt

-- Walla Walla: Kiana Molitor, Jaiden Hodnefield

Class 3A

-- Hanford: Colette Gall, Ashley Stewart, Sydney Shintaffer

-- Kamiakin: Melanie Oord, Sira Toure, Lauren McKinney, Amanda Miller, Jazlyn Robertson

-- Pasco: Cierah Alferness

Class 2A

w Grandview: Marissa Caballero, Madison Trevino, Jamila Shafer

Class 1A

-- Columbia-Burbank: Rachel Roberts, Julie Mosqueda

* Craig Craker: 509-582-1509; ccraker@tricityherald.com