The North Marion girls basketball team is getting its proverbial trial-by-fire treatment this summer.
With the departure of five seniors from last year's fourth-place team, along with starting point guard Mya Hammack splitting time between the court and the soccer field, the Huskies' summer league team is a youthful bunch.
"They have doing been great," head coach Trevor Bodine said. "I'm really excited for our new look. We definitely have some growing pains, but we've been in a lot of good games this year."
Bodine typically runs a pretty tight rotation during the regular season, relying on just a few players off the bench and letting his experienced starters soak up the bulk of the minutes.
Outside of a few mop-up minutes earned during blowout wins last year, the incoming group of sophomores and juniors have little experience with the speed and athleticism at the varsity level. But then, that's exactly what summer league is for.
With the wins largely inconsequential to the larger goal of getting new players ready for the coming season and seeing how they gel without the departed class of outgoing seniors, Bodine has been impressed with the next crop of Huskies.
In typical fashion for the North Marion coach, the team has packed its summer schedule with strong 4A programs, elite small schools, and a handful of 5A and 6A teams to get the Huskies up to pace for the 2019-20 season.
"It gives our younger girls good experience," Bodine said. "It doesn't really help our win-loss column, but it gives the girls some experience, so that's the good part."
Among the team's graduated seniors were 6-1 Paige Martin and 6-2 Raymee Boese. While Bodine can teach defensive strategy and run an effective offense, there's little he can do to make up for the team's biggest and most experienced posts leaving the nest.
And while North Marion may be guard-heavy next year, that won't be the case against the opponents they'll likely face if they hope to make a fourth straight quarterfinal run in March.
Cottage Grove brings back four girls that breach 6-feet, while Astoria features a pair of 6-3 posts that Bodine says have improved considerably since last year.
"The nice thing is the deep ball is the great equalizer against height," Bodine said. "We've just got to find reliable shooters and it can make up for some of the things we lack height-wise."
Along with Martin and Bose, the Huskies graduated All-State guard Mar Verastegui, sixth-man Mackenzie Ulven and varsity veteran Kaitlyn Cobb. With Hammack only available on weekends due to her commitment to the soccer team, Bodine has leaned heavily on sophomores Megan Netter and Jaydan Sahlin for ball-handling duties.
"They did play a little bit sparingly in minutes in which we had blowouts. This is different. They're starting now," Bodine said. "They don't have the luxury of having a lead, they actually have to build one, and that'll help us down the road."
The team has had its bumps, which is to be expected. North Marion has played in nine games decided by five points or less, and has gone 4-5 in those games.
"If we hit 60 percent from the free throw line, we win all nine of them," Bodine said.
But the team has stepped up to the challenges. The Huskies lost to 6A South Salem by just five points without Hammack, and again by two points with her in the lineup.
Against Cottage Grove, North Marion was ahead by double digits for the vast majority of the game, only to lose by two in overtime.
"We've played some really good competition, and that's good for us," Bodine said. "We needed it."
As usual with Bodine's team, the Huskies will be reliant on how well they defend next year. In addition to shooting, the team can make up for a lot of its height discrepancy with how well aggressively they defend opposing teams.
"I think they're adapting pretty well so far," he said. "They're playing hard, they've responded pretty well so far, and this is only with three practices."
With construction taking over the facilities at the high school over the summer, the Huskies have been severely limited in practice time, and after opening the summer schedule with their annual home tournament, the team has played the rest of the month on the road.
"I've been pretty impressed with the way they've responded just playing games, and we're always competitive," Bodine said. "One thing they do have is hard work and grit."
"There's typically no substitute for experience," he added. "We have to make sure we're up for the challenge."
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