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December 11, 2013

Dakota girls basketball team seeing players step into expanded roles

By Jason Carmel Davis
C & G Sports Writer

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Dakota girls basketball team seeing players step into expanded roles
The Macomb Dakota girls basketball team is working in four new starters this season after losing seven players to graduation. Pictured is Cougars senior Alex Hamlock, left, during the team’s season-opening win over Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse Dec. 3.

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — The Macomb Dakota girls basketball team lost seven players to graduation. Five of those athletes earned athletic scholarships, with the other two garnering academic scholarships.

Cougars coach Phil McCune, who has led the team to Class A district titles in four of the last five seasons, said he has six new players and four new starters this season, meaning several players are stepping into expanded roles.

McCune, whose Dakota team sat at 1-1 at press time, said he thinks his team is doing OK early in the season.

The Cougars opened the 2013-14 campaign with a 10-point win over Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse Dec. 3 and then fell to Clarkston High, which McCune dubbed a top-five team in the state, by that same margin Dec. 6.

“They had some jitters in the opener and were a little nervous like a lot of teams, but we were still able to win by 10,” said McCune, whose team went 20-4, 9-3 in the Macomb Area Conference Red Division last season. “I thought we did a really nice job against (Clarkston). We had a four-point lead in the third quarter, and we got into a bit of foul trouble and we had to change some things up and we ended up losing.

“I was really proud of how we handled that. When you play a top team this early in the year, you want to see how they handle it. I always say you don’t really worry about what it says on the scoreboard this time of year. Just go out and give 110 percent and try to get better each day.”

Dakota senior forward Olga Caruso, a two-year varsity player McCune called one of his standouts, said she thinks the team has come a long way since the first week of practice Nov. 11. She did say, though, that the team still has a lot to learn.

“But we learned a lot from playing with the girls who were here last year,” Caruso said. “It was tough early on (this year), but we’re starting to jell and get a feel for how everybody plays.”

Caruso agreed with McCune that giving maximum effort each night would pay dividends for the Cougars. She said the team gave all it had in the loss to Clarkston and that effort shined through during the game.

McCune concurred with Caruso that the team is meshing well. He said the team had one less week to prepare for the season this fall and that he’s going into the season slow, as far as teaching his players all of his schemes.

McCune also said players such as senior forward Rio Dudgeon, who earned a scholarship to play at Oakland University; senior guard Tanina Grace; senior center Alex Hamlock; and junior guard Carmen Hoskins have shown they’re ready to lead Dakota.

“I think we have good leaders and we’re always in high spirits,” Caruso said. “And (Dudgeon) is the best shooter in the state, so with her backing us up and us playing strong defense, I think we’ll be just fine.”

McCune said this team wouldn’t press as much on defense as past Dakota squads. He said depth and quickness issues led him to make changes to his defensive approach.

McCune also said the team must work to get better at defense and rebounding over the course of the season, and that he knows his group will continue to improve each day.

“I think that as the year goes along, we’ll get better,” McCune said. “You see some teams that get stagnant as the season goes along. That’s not us.”

The team will need to constantly improve if it hopes to compete in the MAC Red. Dakota finished second in the league the last two seasons. Grosse Pointe South won the division in 2012-13. Romeo High won back-to-back MAC Red titles from 2010-12. Dakota’s last division title came in the 2010-11 season as a member of the MAC White.

McCune said he expects the division to be tough again. He said Grosse Pointe South has its top three players back and that Romeo has a lot of young talent. McCune also said Utica Ford II has looked solid early. Those three teams had a combined record of 5-2 at press time.

Dakota will play each of those teams twice this season. The Cougars have back-to-back matchups with Grosse Pointe South (5:30 p.m. Jan. 7 at Dakota) and Romeo (5:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at Romeo) to start league play.

“Every game (in the MAC Red) is going to be tough. They always are,” McCune said. “I’ve said this before: I think it’s one of the best-coached leagues in the state, since most of our coaches have been with their teams for a long time. We’re looking forward to it.

“We just want to be competitive in each and every game, and then all of our goals will fall into place. I think we’re going to surprise some people. We’ve got some good talent on this team.”

Dakota next hits the floor for a matchup against Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, set for 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at Dakota.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Jason Carmel Davis at jdavis@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1107. Twitter Follow Jason on Twitter.