NEGAUNEE - Don't be surprised if the Negaunee High School girls basketball team has a collegiate look to its play this season.
New coach Brandon Sager not only works at Northern Michigan University, but is friends with Wildcats women's coach Troy Mattson and is a past NMU player himself.
And the Miners have been a good enough team in past years to remind some of a college team all on their own, too.
Negaunee’s Taylor Wilber brings the ball down the court against the Redettes at Marquette Senior High School last season. Wilber is one of the few returning Miners after the team lost eight from last year’s squad to graduation. (Journal file photo)
The defending Mid-Peninsula Conference champions enter a new era after longtime coach Gregg Nelson was replaced with Sager, who graduated from Ishpeming High School and finished his playing days at NMU in 1996.
Working in the university's facilities department, Sager has coached at the elementary and middle-school level, but not with girls this old.
"It's been great so far. The girls have made things very smooth for me," Sager said. "They've bought into my coaching philosophy."
Nov. 27 - Gladstone, 7:45 p.m.
Nov. 30 - At Manistique, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 4 - Escanaba, 7:45 p.m.
Dec. 11 - At L'Anse, 7:20 p.m.
Dec. 14 - Norway, 7:45 p.m.
Dec. 18 - At Iron Mountain, 7:45 p.m.
Dec. 20 - At Marquette, 7:20 p.m.
Jan. 4 - Manistique, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 10 - At Gwinn, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 15 - L'Anse, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 18 - Westwood, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 21 - Ishpeming, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 23 - At Escanaba, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 29 - At Gladstone, 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 1 - At Norway, 8 p.m.
Feb. 7 - Iron Mountain, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 12 - Gwinn, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 15 - At Westwood, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 19 - Marquette, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 21 - At Ishpeming, 7:30 p.m.
That includes a motion offense where players have a set system to work within, but can make decisions on their own about how to attack any specific situation.
"My motto is 'Next play' - if you make a mistake, let's just look ahead to the next play," the coach said. "I want them to play hard, that's what I'm looking for."
Despite the departure of eight of last year's seniors, he still contends that he has a talented group.
Included are a quartet of 5-foot-5 senior guards to build around, any three of whom could be on the court at one time.
They include Kayla Hakala, who plays either guard position, has worked on her shooting in the off-season and is "a natural leader on the floor."
There's Taylor Wilber, a shooting guard who will defend the opposition's best player. Sager said she's become a leader in her second year at Negaunee and is "pretty athletic, a hard worker and good shooter."
Point guard Ashley Veale is another defensive stalwart who is "very competitive and very athletic."
Rounding out this foursome is shooting guard Haley Blake, who can attack the basket, but is also a good shooter from farther out.
On the front line is a pair of juniors, 5-8 forward Rosalie Anderson and 5-11 center Aubri Romback, and 5-9 sophomore Adena Anderson.
Rosalie Anderson is a good all-around player - "she does everything you ask her to do," according to Sager - and can rebound and score; while Romback can hit the 15-foot jumper, but also move inside.
Adena Anderson is a solid player with a great work ethic like her sister Rosalie, and Sager said he's intrigued with how well the siblings play together.
The roster is rounded out by 5-8 senior forward Jordyn LaFreniere, 5-11 senior forward Raquel Randall, 5-3 junior guard Kelsey Erva, 5-9 junior guard Chelsea Cappoferri, 5-3 junior guard Kyra Niemi and 6-foot sophomore post player Frida Claussen.
Any or all could get significant minutes depending on their development and the opposition.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.