PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Marshall girls basketball looks to start out strong in 2017 season

MARSHALL – The Marshall Tigers will open up the 2017-2018 season today in Worthington as part of the Big South Conference Showcase. The Tigers will play Southwest Minnesota Christian, a team out of the Red Rock Conference in Class A. The Eagles were asked to take part in the showcase to even out the field.

The Tigers finished last season with a 13-14 record and a 10-3 record in conference play. Marshall will return a strong core of players, but will have to replace last year’s leading scorer, Natalie Petrich.

Petrich’s absence in the paint will be felt, but the Tigers will have no shortage of options to turn to in the paint this season. Hannah Meier averaged just under 10 points in four starts as a junior last season. Paige Andries returns after leading the team in rebounds as a freshman. Erica Jones is another player that was part of the rotation last year for the Tigers.

The strength of this year’s team will be in the backcourt. Kaia Sueker and Lenei Estrada both started for the Tigers last season. Sueker led the team with 39 made 3-pointers as a sophomore. As a freshman, Estrada averaged nearly eight points per game.

“We played some younger kids a year ago and we’ll do more of that this year,” Marshall coach Dan Westby said. “Our kids have been working hard in practice. The energy in the gym has been high. That needs to continue. The question is can we continue to work hard and look to improve each day. If we do that we’ll have a chance to make some noise at tournament time.”

If the Tigers are going to make a deep tournament run it will hinge on their performance on the defensive end of the court.

“We’ve always made defense a priority,” Westby said. “If we keep opponents’ scores down, we’ll have a chance in the end. It’s important we regain that mentality this season.”

Today’s game against SWC will be the start of a grueling schedule for the Tigers. The Eagles are currently ranked ninth in Class A. The Tigers have a touch non-conference schedule. When they get into conference play things will only get tougher.

“Our schedule is challenging again this season,” Westby said. “Our league should be improved. Everyone in the conference is returning a number of players from a year ago. Waseca had just two seniors last year. We really run the gauntlet in our non-conference schedule. The difficult part is that we need to secure enough wins to posture ourselves for a run come tournament time.”