Mike Kiefer has been the Live Oak High girls basketball coach for 17 years, but he doesn’t remember ever having a season in which he’s had only one senior on the team.
Such is the case this season and as such Kiefer acknowledges it’s going to be a transition year for the program.
“We are in total rebuild mode right now,” he said after a 48-14 season-opening loss to Christopher High on Nov. 23. “Total rebuild mode.”
The Acorns were held scoreless for two of the four quarters in the Christopher contest, struggling in every phase of the game. However, Kiefer was proud of his players for giving max effort and staying in the game mentally, which will be vital as the season goes on because their improvement might not show on the scoreboard.
“The one thing is the effort is there,” he said. “We can fix things (schematically), but the one thing we can’t fix is effort and heart, and they have the effort and the heart. We can work with that and build from there.”
From the first game alone, the Acorns had decent production from sophomore Isabelle Cline, junior Emma Ghione, sophomore Maya Rafat and senior Kashari Gravenberg, a guard who plays much bigger than her 5-foot-5 frame. Gravenberg snagged a couple of rebounds in traffic against a much taller Christopher team.
Cline accounted for nine of the team’s 14 points, all via the 3-pointer. She displayed a sweet looking shooting stroke and is one of the few players on the team who can score points in a flurry. Ghione can handle the ball and drive to the basket.
The challenge for her and all the players will be to maintain a positive attitude during games in which they might not be competitive score-wise. Instead of simplifying things to where the team could be more competitive, Kiefer said he and the players decided to keep doing what the program has been doing in terms of X’s and O’s.
“The defense we run (press variations) is complicated, but once they get it down, they’ll be fine,” he said. “Right now they’re struggling with their movements, but we decided to let the girls learn and hopefully in the preseason (non-league) we’ll take our lumps and it’ll prepare us for league play as opposed to simplifying things.”
Kiefer added that eight or nine of the players on the team have never run the system before and they only had 2 ½ weeks to practice it leading up to the season-opener. Most of the players lack varsity experience and it’s been a huge transition to the upper level.
“A lot of the girls are coming up from the eighth-grade level and some just didn’t play (in the Covid spring season),” Kiefer said. “It’s a whole different game from the eighth grade and skipping junior varsity and going straight to varsity. I’m trying to let them figure things out on the floor and let them learn as they play.”
That was exactly the approach Kiefer had in the Christopher game, as he had plenty of opportunities to call timeouts but used them sparingly.
“It’s preseason and I know every game matters, but what they’re doing, we can see it on film and correct it in practice as opposed to stopping it during games,” he said.
Outside of Cline, Ghione, Rafat and Gravenberg, Kiefer knows other players will emerge and contribute in a variety of ways as the season progresses. They’re experiencing growing pains, but he’s confident the tide will turn for the better.
“All the intangibles are there; it’s just them learning to play with each other and understanding their roles,” he said. “That comes with experience and right now they’re learning their way, and I believe once they figure it out, it’ll be good. We’ll be fine but we have a long way to go.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.