By Kevin Cloe
Two freshmen, four sophomores, five juniors and only one senior.
And they already have one state playoff experience under their belts.
That could be the general overview of Wickenburg High School’s girls basketball program.
This year’s team was a young squad with an energetic coach that overcame four consecutive losses to start 3A West Region play and still qualified for the 3A Conference state playoffs this season.
Five straight victories after its initial four consecutive losses in region action lifted the 3A Conference’s 28th-ranked Lady Wranglers into second place in the West, automatically qualifying them for the state playoffs, where they lost their first-round game last week to No. 9-ranked Winslow, 62-28.
West Region coaches were so impressed by the Lady Wranglers’ comeback story that they recognized Coach Kevin Cushman as the region’s Coach of the Year and his starting guard, daughter Katie, as the Offensive Player of the Year (along with starting sophomore guard Clare Peterson being placed on the all-region second team, while senior forward Sadie White and junior forward Kelsey Hershkowitz were named as Honorable Mentions). The Lady Wranglers were the only team to defeat region champion Northwest Christian on the 10-game 3A West schedule and finished the entire season with a 15-12 record — a significant improvement from the 5-22 team of a year ago that finished fourth in the region standings in a predetermined development year.
Not only did Wickenburg’s girls need to overcome an unexpected slow start in region action this season, but they also had to adjust to a coaching change early in the season.
Third-year Lady Wranglers coach Bill Root, who had previously coached the Wranglers’ boys basketball team in 2004-05 and 2005-06, stepped down as girls coach because he felt he no longer had the energy and enthusiasm and didn’t think it was fair to the girls for him to continue in that capacity. Two games into the season, former junior varsity and assistant varsity coach Cushman, who had previously coached several of the girls at Vulture Peak Middle School, assumed the head coaching duties.
The sophomore backcourt tandem (and eventual all-region selections) of Cushman and Peterson led the Lady Wranglers in scoring with 11.2- and 7.2-point scoring averages, respectively, this season. Sophomore center Mercy Uldrickson (at 5 feet, 11 inches tall) and 5-foot-6 junior center/forward Pasyn Leavitt were the team’s leading rebounders with averages of six per game, while Cushman and White were the defensive leaders with three steals per contest.
Winslow, by the way, lost its second-round playoff game to No. 8-ranked Chinle, 53-46, last weekend after it ended the Lady Wranglers’ season earlier in the week.