2013-14 girls prep hoops preview: Youthful Ishpeming brings back deep pool of talent

ISHPEMING – Ishpeming won’t have a lot of seniors and won’t have a lot of height, but new head varsity girls basketball coach Tom Graves still sees a lot of potential with his team.

And he should know, having been the Hematites’ assistant varsity coach last year and JV coach for three years. Graves was officially named to the position in October after Mark Dellangelo stepped down.

Graves is no rookie coach, either, having worked as an associate and assistant coach for 14 years at Northern Michigan, Northwood and Saginaw Valley State universities going back into the 1980s.

The new coach knows there are some big shoes to fill following the graduation of Alesha O’Brien, Taylor Croley and Jordann Grigg.

“That leadership, when you lose it, it’s hard to replace,” Graves said. “We need to project leadership, so we’ll focus on that.

‘As the season progresses, we want to improve there.”

What he does have are some solid players with depth in all five positions. Rather than using the traditional guard, forward and center labels, Graves prefers the numbers one through five, one being point guard and five the equivalent of a center.

Joining four juniors in the starting lineup is senior Gabby Croley, who despite being 5-foot-6 is a strong post presence and was named to the Mid-Peninsula Conference Second Team a year ago.

“What she lacks in height she makes up for with her strength,” Graves said. “She’ll start inside at the ‘5’ position (center) and be an important leader on this team.

“She’s very aggressive with the ball, and one of the nice things is she has developed a nice mid-range shot. Gabby can also put the ball on the floor a little bit and get to the basket that way, too.”

Leading the junior class is 5-9 Jessica Spencer, who earned M-PC First Team status as a sophomore after averaging 11.5 points and seven rebounds per game.

Each of those ranked No. 4 in the M-PC during the regular season.

“Jessica will start at the ‘4,’ (power forward) though she’ll get time at the ‘3,’ (small forward)” Graves said. “Her game is evolving and we’re working on her game facing the basket.”

At 5-6, Tammy Simula holds down the other small forward spot after playing guard a year ago.

“We feel she can work from different positions on the perimeter but can play inside, too,” her coach said.

Despite being one of the tallest Hematites at 5-8, Kaylie Engler is slated to start at shooting guard after being a small forward a year ago.

“Kaylie is a good spot-up shooter, but I’m hoping she’ll learn to attack the basket more and be effective getting to the free-throw line, since she’s good shooting free throws, too,” Graves said.

The point guard position, belongs to 5-4 returnee Morgan Skytta, who her coach said can also knock down open shots from the perimeter.

Reserves include 5-5 sophomore Jessica Penhale, who Graves sees as the future of the program, 5-foot senior Courtney Allen, a “gritty player with a great attitude,” and a number of juniors.