2013-14 girls prep hoops preview: Athleticism, conditioning more than make up for Westwood’s lack of height

ISHPEMING – The Westwood girls basketball team won’t be the tallest team on the hardwood this season.

But second-year coach Kurt Corcoran will pit his players’ abilities – not to mention conditioning – with anybody on their schedule.

“This is a transition year, and we had some growing pains last season,” Corcoran said. “But the girls played hard, and by the end of the year I think we were showing some real improvement.”

The Patriots finsihed 7-13 but that included a 4-4 run to finish the campaign.

Over the offseason, he said his girls committed themselves to getting in good condition, much of it through a program at the CrossFit 906 training center in Ishpeming.

“We’ll be one of the more athletic teams in the conference,” the coach said.

“And they did some real team-building, too,” he added as he was able to witness a few workouts.

Three starters are back and form the team’s core.

Senior 5-foot-4 point guard Caitlin Hewitt was one of them until she broke her leg in the sixth game last season. She’s moving over the two-guard position in favor of her replacement last year, 5-4 junior Gabby Hebert.

“Gabby did an excellent job taking the reins at point guard,” Corcoran said. “She’s a hard-nosed, stubborn-type player.

“Caitlin is a good shooter and good slasher and I hope we’ll be able to take advantage of that.”

Lizzie Dauphinais-VanBuren is a 5-5 senior who’s going from guard to the unique position of guard-forward-center by working hard on her conditioning.

“She has put in a lot of time, and she can play down low,” her coach said. “She’s head and shoulders stronger than anyone else on the team. She’ll get us offensive and defensive rebounds, but she can handle the ball.”

Another multiposition player is 5-6 junior Katie Rankinen. At guard-forward, she has a good jump shot as Corcoran wants her to step up as a leader to motivate others.

“She’s a natural basketball player and has a good sense for the game,” he said.

A typical three-guard set is rounded out by 5-3 sophomore Hannah Salmi, an outside sharpshooter.

“Hannah put in more time shooting than anyone else during the off-season,” Corcoran said.

Spelling them will be 5-10 senior forward-center Amber Salo, credited with soft hands and good moves under the basket; 5-8 junior forward-center Emily Carlson, who also works well under the bucket; and 5-5 senior guard Megan Chapman, termed “Mama” by her teammates as the smartest player on the team and also a vociferously vocal leader on the court.

The roster is rounded out by four juniors – 5-6 guard Shana Caliguri, 5-9 forward-center Shelby Kellan, 5-9 center Lacey Pietro and 5-10 center Courtney Beauchamp.