Every high school team loses seniors from one season to another, but maybe not to the extent of the Vista Ridge girls’ basketball team.
The Lady Rangers have been perennial playoff contenders, reaching the postseason in each of the last nine seasons. They’ve lost one district game in the last three seasons and made it to the state tournament twice in that span.
Two of last year’s senior class are playing at the collegiate level and this year’s team has three freshman and three sophomores, all of which figure to play this season.
“I love it,” Vista Ridge head coach Keith Allen said. “It’s a fun problem to have. We have a lot of (underclassmen) and we like the fact that we’re going to have these kids for a couple of years. They’re good kids and they work hard every day.”
There are just two seniors on the team this season, Katie McCracken and Julie Shalkowski. Neither one of them averaged more than 2.5 points per game last season. Ansley Herrin is the leading returning scorer after averaging 3.7 a contest last year.
Nikki Cardaño-Hillary was a four-year starter for the Lady Rangers and scored nearly 30 points a game and was named the district MVP last year before heading to A10 power George Mason. Katie McKie was the Offensive MVP last year after averaging more than 15 points a game and is playing college basketball at UMass-Lowell.
“We lost a lot of individual talent,” McCracken said. “I’ve been trying to get each other to share the ball and trust each other. We don’t have to watch one person take the ball. We can all contribute.”
The Lady Raiders did just that in their last game before Thanksgiving break as all 12 players on the roster scored at least a point and they beat Austin Bowie 68-60. Sophomore Victoria Baker led the way with 16 points while sophomore Chloe Chestier and freshmen A.J. Marotte and Weade Adeleke all scored eight points.
“We are a young team,” Allen said. “A.J. has been very mature for a freshman and I think Victoria, who is really getting her first varsity minutes this year, is really coming along strong and is going to be a very good player for us.”
The story was much different in the Nancy Walling Classic tournament Pflugerville last weekend. the Lady Rangers won just one of their five games, beating Houston King in the first game of the tournament.
Vista Ridge kicks off the district season at home this Friday at 7 p.m. against Lake Travis and plays its first district home game on Tuesday against Westlake. Even with the high turnover, the focus hasn’t changed.
“Our goals this season are to play really well as a team and have really great defense,” McCracken said. “We trust each other with the ball. Personally, I want to get a few more charges because that’s a big thing for our team.”
On many varsity teams, the fact that so many underclassmen play key minutes might cause a rift between the seniors and juniors and the rest of the team. But with Vista Ridge, the two seniors and five juniors have no ego when it comes to playing time and volume of points.
“Sometimes they’re going to have great nights and we rely on the them a lot more,” Allan said. “Sometimes they don’t and other kids like our freshmen step up and we rely on them. They seem to balance it really well.”