2011-12 Winter Preview: Woodbury girls basketball team shifting into high gearAfter 24 years under former coach Dave Preller, the Royals girls basketball team is undergoing a makeover, courtesy of new coach Lionel Jones.
By: Mike Longaecker, Editor, Woodbury Bulletin
Get ready for a new brand of basketball in Woodbury.
After 24 years under former coach Dave Preller, the Royals girls basketball team is undergoing a makeover, courtesy of new coach Lionel Jones.
Jones, who comes to Woodbury after compiling a 131-23 record at Menomonie (Wis.) High School over seven seasons, said he’s bringing a faster, more up-tempo style of play to the program.
“I’m really excited about coming to Woodbury and implementing my system,” said Jones, whose Menomonie team finished 22-1 last season. “This is my dream job – to be in a program like Woodbury, with a strong tradition that has community support and has the resources to be one of the best programs in the state.”
Preller, who was named the Minnesota Coaches Association girls basketball Class AAAA State Coach of the Year last year, compiled a 533-182 career coaching record, before retiring at the end of the 2010-11 school year. Preller was the head girls basketball coach at Woodbury the last 24 years. In his tenure, the Royals won one state championship, in 2003, had a runner-up finish in 1998, a third-place finish in 2004 and a fourth-place finish in 2002, along with winning 16 conference championships and 10 section championships. Last season, Woodbury finished 20-8 overall, finished second in the Suburban East Conference with a 14-3 record and reached a fourth-straight Section 4AAAA championship game.
Jones’ system represents a pronounced departure from Preller’s approach, which standout Royals guard Kristina White said relied on a set-up offense.
“It’s very different,” White said of Jones’ system. “But I think the girls are really liking it.”
Jones’ approach relies on constant, full-court pressure aimed at generating turnovers and creating quick transition points.
“They’re starting to buy in, but it will take some time,” Jones said.
Jones said his system also looks to involve more players. That, he said, will be a change to last year’s team, that relied heavily on former Royals star Michelle Young – now a Division I player at Bradley University – to score.
“It won’t just be that one person,” Jones said.
Where the new approach leads the team is yet to be seen, but Jones said he expects his players will catch on before long.
The team will have to do it – for at least part of the season – without standout post player Ashley Sha, who sustained an ACL injury over the summer. Jones said that when he first arrived at Woodbury in May, his plan was to use the 6-foot, 4-inch senior in a unique way with the press.
“It’s a huge loss for us,” he said of Sha’s injury.
Jones said it’s possible Sha – who earlier this month signed a letter of intent to play basketball next year at Colorado Christian University – could return to the court yet this season, depending on doctors’ evaluations.
“Those ACL injuries are tricky,” he said.
Jones will, however, be able to turn to a player named by a national publication as one of Minnesota’s top players: White.
The 5-foot, 9-inch junior guard was listed among the nation’s best, according to Sporting News.
“Kristina is one of the most intelligent individuals that I have ever had the chance to be around,” Jones said, “and when you combine that with her basketball skill, it becomes a dangerous combination.”
White, also a standout soccer player, said she doesn’t necessarily feel any additional pressure following the national recognition – only “a pressure to help (teammates) accomplish their goals.”
White, Sha and Kayla Hinton, a 5-foot, 8-inch guard, are the team captains. Jones said other potential standouts include point guard Marissa Olsen and Liz Sampson, a 5-foot 10-inch post player who will be called upon to fill Sha’s shoes.
Jones said White Bear Lake – the team that ousted Woodbury last season in the section championship game – will again be a threat in the Suburban East Conference and Section 4AAAA.
The Royals kick off the season Dec. 2 at Mahtomedi and Dec. 3 at the Hopkins Breakdown Classic.