Don't make the mistake of judging the entire 2017-18 New Richmond girls basketball season by the Tigers' first game.
The Tigers got a late start to the season and it showed in the first half of last Friday's game against St. Croix Central. The Tigers trailed 28-6 at halftime and lost to the Panthers, 54-23.
There were several circumstances working against the Tigers in Friday's game. The Tigers were without their two top returning scorers, senior Lorin Bauer and sophomore Jessica Hagman. Bauer was out for one game. Hagman will miss the season after suffering a major knee injury that required surgery late in the summer.
This was the Tigers' first game of the season, but it was St. Croix Central's fourth. Earlier in the week the Panthers had defeated reigning Dunn-St. Croix Conference champion Elk Mound and Lakeland Conference champion St. Croix Falls, so the Panthers were clearly clicking on all cylinders.
New Richmond coach Ryan Schradle is as upbeat about this Tiger team as he's been about any in his four seasons as the team's coach. Last year's team was incredibly young and nearly all those girls return with at least one full year of varsity experience. Schradle said there is also a group of younger girls who worked extremely hard in the offseason and they're pushing for game time at the varsity level this season.
Schradle said this is the deepest team since he's taken over the Tigers and the depth is at guard and post positions.
"It's not only the (improved) depth, but the skill level," Schradle said for his optimism. "There's a lot of talent there, a lot of room for improvement."
The depth starts with vastly improved numbers in the program. There are 29 girls active on the team, including 13 freshmen.
The depth at the varsity level showed in the fact that nine different girls scored for the Tigers in Friday's game. And while the Tigers struggled offensively in the first half on Friday, their defense was a factor all night. The Tigers forced Central into 24 turnovers in the game.
"The energy was there the entire time, they never game up," Schradle said of the defensive effort.
Schradle said he is looking for leadership from Bauer, who has been in the varsity rotation since her freshman season. He said juniors Amelia Feuerer and Kate Miller are expected to take another step forward this season. Miller led the Tigers with five points against Central. That trio leads the Tigers' perimeter group, but there is plenty of competition for playing time from girls like Zoey Christensen, Maya Greenquist, Amanda Johnson and Avery Utecht. Sophomore Audrey Feuerer is being counted upon as the team's main post presence, with senior Katie Hermansen and freshman Leah DeYoung also in line for playing time.
The Tigers have another date with St. Croix Central on Feb. 15, in the final Middle Border Conference for both games. That game is already being discussed by the Tigers.
"That's 20 games from now. It'll be a good litmus test to see how much we've improved," Schradle said.
Of more immediate concern for the Tigers is home games this Friday and Saturday. The Tigers will host Baldwin-Woodville at 7:15 p.m. on Friday and Ashland at 3 p.m. on Saturday. The Tigers will play at Ellsworth next Tuesday.