GWINN - There's nothing like getting yourself thrown into the fire right away during your first head coaching job.
That's what Ben Olsen faces with a shorthanded Gwinn girls basketball team and a murderous opening to the Modeltowners schedule this season.
Three of his key players have missed preseason practice due to injuries, with one - 5-foot-9 senior center-forward Morgan Bruce - possibly able to come back just in time for a four-game stretch on the road at season's start.
Not only are those games away from the Modeltowners' gym, but they include a district tournament champion from last season, Ishpeming; a state quarterfinalist, Gladstone; possibly the Upper Peninsula's best Class D team, Bark River-Harris; and the runner-up in the Mid-Peninsula Conference, Iron Mountain.
"We just hope to weather the early storm," Olsen said. "This group has some potential, and we can be at least in the middle of the pack (in the M-PC), and be in games against the better teams."
During the past few years, Olsen has coached the Gwinn JV boys and Marquette JV boys and girls, along with serving as a student assistant and strength and conditioning coach for Northern Michigan University women's coach Troy Mattson.
The Gwinn School District elementary physical education teacher was also an assistant coach for the Modeltowners' varsity football team this fall.
He'll call upon all his experience right away in Gwinn, which has available three of its talented group of four guards as a base.
"We can rotate these four girls into three positions, since all are capable of playing the point, shooting or third guard," Olsen said.
The guard not available is 5-5 senior Paige Vincent, who the coach hopes to have back in January after a knee injury.
One veteran who will be available right away is 5-9 senior Lydia Asplund, now in her third year on the varsity.
There's 5-5 junior Kaylee Arnsparger, who does a lot of little-seen things.
"She's super coachable. If you ask her something once, she gets it done," her coach said. "She's constantly in your face on defense and is a player capable of a couple of steals and assists every game."
Sophomore Ellie Olson, at 5-7, made her mark immediately after a late-season callup to the varsity last year, hitting a game-winning shot just before the start of the district tournament. On the front line, Olsen hopes to have Bruce ready right away to provide both rebounding and scoring. One player he won't expect back right away is 6-3 junior center Shelby Talsma, who "clogs up the middle well," an important trait for a guard-oriented squad like Gwinn.
He will have 5-9 junior Katie Aho at forward or center. Significant minutes for the rest of the roster can help them develop early, too. That includes 5-8 senior center Casey DeVooght, 5-9 senior center Megan McGuire, 5-5 sophomore guard Jordyn Hutchens, 5-6 senior guard-forward Bianca Lantagne and 5-6 junior guard-forward Kristine Carlson.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.