The shots are going to be flying at Baraboo girls basketball games this season.
The more, the better for Thunderbirds, who are adopting a new system that is going to stress pushing the pace on both ends of the floor, forcing turnovers and prioritizing 3-pointers. While variations of this system have been played across the country over the years, Baraboo head coach Michael Behl is adapting his new system from Grinnell College, an NCAA Division III program in Iowa that has gained notoriety over the last 25 years for the uptempo system of head coach Dave Arseneault.
“At its core, you’re playing really, really fast on both ends of the court,” Behl said. “Essentially you want to get a shot off within 14 seconds and you want your opponent to get a shot off within 14 seconds.
“At the high school girls level, if you can average 70 to 80 points per game and keep your opponents under 65, you’ve got a good chance. That’s going to be the formula.”
For that formula to work, Behl has several statistical markers he’ll be looking for each game. He wants the T-Birds to take at least 36 3-pointers per game, force more than 20 turnovers per game, and score close to 40 points in the first half and at least 70 points by the end of the game.
A lot of those numbers are going to start on the defensive end of the floor.
“The misnomer is that you create pace on offense, but you create pace on defense,” said Behl, who is stressing not fouling and never giving up 3-pointers. “Defensively, you’ve got to really pressure the basketball. You’re looking to contest without fouling. If they make it, great, we’re up. We’ll get the ball in as fast as we can and get the ball up the floor. Essentially you want to trade 3s for 2s when you can.”
In order to keep up that pace, the T-Birds are going to need all hands on deck for playing time.
“That’s one of the things that appeals to me — I want to get more kids out playing,” Behl said. “There’s a role for everyone, especially if you’re athletic. ... It’s up and down the floor, playing as many kids as possible and trying to wear down the opponent.”
Behl made the decision to switch to the Grinnell style of offense late last season.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” said Behl, whose AAU team had success with the system this summer. “I kind of committed to it when I went down to Grinnell College last January. I watched them play Beloit College and then I went and observed their practice and talked to their coaches last January. I thought about it and thought about it, talked to some of our assistants, and everyone’s on board.”
Baraboo may not hit all of its statistical goals in year one of the system, but Behl hopes that the new playing style filters down through the program.
“We’re in the middle of the process, system-wise,” Behl said of the transition. “From the JV on down all the way to the youth kids. The varsity kids will play a form of it, but we just haven’t fully built the depth up to play that way yet, so we’re going to be running a hybrid version. ... It’s a huge learning curve, but I’m happy with their effort.”
The T-Birds are looking to develop into the team they want to be late in the season.
“We’re going to look really bad at times, and at times were going to look like we’re really, really tough to beat,” Behl said. “If you’re playing a team that has great length, you can take away that factor a little bit. And you can also neutralize a little bit of individual talent, because they can never really settle in.”
It’s going to be a fun adjustment for a Baraboo team that scored 52.1 points per game on the way to compiling an 11-13 record last season, and finished fifth in the Badger North Conference at 4-8. Baraboo earned a No. 8 seed in the WIAA Division 2 playoffs, earning a double-overtime win over ninth-seeded Reedsburg before falling to top-seeded Stoughton in the regional semifinals. Baraboo reached the 70-point mark just once last season, in a 71-20 season-opening win over La Crosse Central.
Even without the change in style, Baraboo was going to have a new look this season. The T-Birds will be adjusting to life without Emily Kieck, a four-time first-team All-Badger North selection who has moved on to the college ranks, where she is suiting up for Winona (Minn.) State. Kieck averaged 18.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.9 steals per game as a senior and finished with 1,331 career points.
The T-Birds also lost Josie Schaefer, an honorable mention All-Badger North pick who averaged 10.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. Emily Stieve, an honorable mention all-conference pick in 2015-16, and Hannah Braun also graduated after earning significant playing time last season.
Lindsay Johnson, who appeared in 14 games last season, is the lone senior returning from last year’s roster.
“She’s ready to go,” Behl said of Johnson. “She’ll contribute and she’ll play anywhere from the five spot to a guard spot.”
Lia Kieck and Lexi Johnson are the most likely options to fill that loss of production. The versatile juniors each earned honorable mention all-conference recognition last season and will spend a lot more time with the ball in their hands this year.
“They’ll be a major part of what we’re trying to do,” Behl said. “They’ll both play some point guard, they’ll both play some forward, and they’ll just kind of help each other out and share the duties of getting the ball up the court and getting us in the offense. Replacing Emily in terms of points, assists and getting us into the offense is going to be difficult this year. They’re just going to have to share those duties and learn on the fly.”
Lia Kieck averaged a team-high 7.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore, while adding 5.8 points and 1.5 steals per game. Kieck will be the most experienced T-Bird entering the season after being in the rotation as a freshman and sophomore. Johnson was third on the team with 7.7 points per game last season, her first year on varsity. The 5-foot-9 forward added 3.9 rebounds per game and looked more comfortable as the year went along.
Behl thinks that Kieck and Johnson will fit perfectly in the new system.
“They’re ready to go with this,” Behl said. “They’re kind of the prototypical system player. They’re long, they can shoot, they can get to the rim, they play really hard and they’ve got good length. All of those things fit into what we’re trying to do.”
Kieck and Johnson are part of a deep junior class that has three other players — Haley Hannagan, Grace Stuckey and Abby Moon — that saw varsity action last year. Hannagan appeared in all 24 games last season, while Stuckey saw action in 13 games and Moon played in seven games.
“We have a whole bunch of juniors who are going to play a big role,” said Behl, who also noted that Megan Horstman will be a key contributor.
The Baraboo coaching staff got an extended look at the T-Birds during Saturday’s scrimmages against Sun Prairie, Portage and Fall River.
“I thought we played well,” Behl said. “I thought we gave them some issues in terms of our full-court pressure. But teams will adjust as well, but we’ll have to adjust to them. It’s an exciting process to figure out this style of play. I think it’ll be fun to watch.”
The T-Birds’ first real test will come when they host La Crosse Central on Friday. The Badger North season begins next Tuesday when Baraboo hosts conference newcomer Beaver Dam, who went unbeaten on the way to winning the Division 2 state title last season.
“In terms of our conference, other than Beaver Dam, who is heads and tails better than everyone, I think we’re pretty bunched,” Behl said. “Night in and night out, anybody can beat anyone. In terms of parity, other than Beaver Dam, it’s probably the closest everyone has been in a long time.”