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Quick start, total team effort fuels Titans in 2011 campaign

By: Sue Teggart | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 26, 2011

 Utica Stevenson senior Lauren Hopfner (23), senior Samantha Simmerson (12), sophomore Ashley Nickens (44) and junior Heather Damman (22) join in a team huddle before a game earlier in the season

Utica Stevenson senior Lauren Hopfner (23), senior Samantha Simmerson (12), sophomore Ashley Nickens (44) and junior Heather Damman (22) join in a team huddle before a game earlier in the season

Photo by David Schreiber

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The Utica Stevenson girls basketball team is liking its view from the top.

Besides posting a 4-0 record in the Macomb Area Conference Red Division, 7-2 overall, at press time, the Titans have already eclipsed their record from last season.

Last year, Stevenson also started its season with a four-game winning streak, but then lost a close game to Grosse Pointe North. Coach Troy Marks said that’s when “the wheels fell off,” and the team finished 4-6.

Marks said the Titans are striving for consistency in games and practices.

“My thing is, how do we handle success? And, how do we come to play night in and night out?” he said. “It’s my job as a coach to make sure they stay focused. Being in first place isn’t something that they’re not overly used to. The big thing is consistency and knowing that we’re going to have to bring our best game, because everybody else is going to bring theirs.”

“We need to remember to stay humble,” said senior Lauren Hopfner. “Last year, we didn’t know how to handle success. This year, we learned from our mistakes and are going at it hard.”

Marks keeps the team focused with the mantra, “Start fast, finish strong.”

“We wanted to start fast in the first round of conference play, and hopefully, be undefeated. But now, how do we finish?” Marks said. “We’re only halfway through (league games). We still have some tough games ahead, so it’s all about keeping them focused.

“When the postseason comes, it’s about the teams who finish strong.”

Despite having just nine healthy players, Stevenson is getting the most from a small roster.

(Click here for the Titans' starting lineup)

“Players are really buying into the system and really understanding the expectations I have for them,” Marks said.

This year’s squad is balanced when it comes to talent.

“We don’t have anybody that’s averaging double figures,” Marks said. “When I read the scorebook off … we’ll find nine of the girls have scored. I think it’s a thing where the girls trust each other, and teams are having a difficult time because there really isn’t a player that they can focus on to shut down.”

“That’s the best part about our team, that we don’t have one or two key players we have to go to, but a whole team that can step up in any game,” Hopfner said.

Stevenson’s strength is its defense, which held its last two opponents under 40 points. Offensively, the squad is averaging over 50 points per game, with six of nine players shooting 70 percent or better from the free-throw line.

“We’ve won a lot close games at the free-throw line,” Marks said. “If we can get to the line, we know we have a very good chance of winning games.”

Dealing with the pressure of the free-throw line will help the Titans during the second half of league play as the proverbial target on their backs grows.

“It’s easier to get to No. 1 than to stay at No. 1,” Marks said. “Everyone is going to want to beat us. We’ve worked very hard to become the target, but now we have to face that pressure.”
 

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