EVANSTON – The Evanston High School girls’ basketball team brings back a wealth of experience for the 2017-18 season. The Lady Red Devils have also implemented a new style of play. The combination has third-year head coach Jeremy Fessler optimistic for the upcoming campaign.
“It was an exciting offseason,” Fessler said. “It seemed like our attitudes changed. Instead of being aggressed on, we became the aggressor. That was neat to see.”
Evanston went 12-15 last season and 5-5 in the 4A West Conference. The Lady Red Devils suffered a 52-34 loss to Cheyenne East in the first round of the state tournament at Casper College. In the consolation round, Rock Springs ended Evanston’s season with a 52-47 win.
“We played really well last year,” Evanston senior Hailey Barker said. “The season just didn’t end how we wanted it to.”
The Lady Red Devils are hoping for a different outcome at state this year, and they feel like they have the ability and the experience to get the job done.
Evanston loses one senior from last year in Emma Piper, but the Lady Red Devils return five seniors – four of whom have played at the varsity level since their sophomore year.
“You can’t underestimate the value of a senior,” Fessler said. “They’ve been through the battles, they’ve been through four years of the program. They’ve worked their tails off and they’ve sacrificed a lot of time.
“It’s a huge asset that we’ve got that. I’m hoping with all the senior leadership this year, we have more consistency throughout the year.”
Leading the way for Evanston will be two-time all-state senior Emmery Wagstaff, who led the team as a junior with 13 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game.
Also back is Barker, a senior All-Conference selection a year ago who averaged 9.4 points per game and led the team with 2.5 assists per game.
“The thing we are really looking to them for is leadership and just bringing positive vibes to practice every day and getting those younger kids and those juniors to step up behind them and want to follow in their paths,” Fessler said. “Both of them are going to have to score for us. They’re going to have to do everything for us. Those two are very important pieces.”
Taylor Groll, a four-year starter at point guard, along with Alyssa Dean and Megan Fisher are also back as seniors.
But they aren’t the only players who gained experienced last season. In total, Evanston has nine returners who saw time at the varsity level.
Ajahonna Archuleta (junior, post), Kori Deru (junior, guard), Natalie Robbins (junior, forward/post), Sydney Bown (junior, post) were all contributors last season.
Kayli Sharp (junior, post), Kaelyn Hiatt (junior, guard), Sierra Burleigh (junior, forward), Hannah Sower (junior, post) and Bailey Porter (junior, forward) will all get an opportunity to see time at the varsity level.
“We have a lot of people coming back,” Wagstaff said. “We’ve played a lot of years together, so we should be pretty good. Our group of seniors – when we were in middle school, we said together then we wanted to win a state championship. This season is really important to us.”
After going 0-2 at the state tournament the past two years, Fessler is looking to take it one step at a time.
“Our goal when I took the program over was to get to state,” he said. “You want to say, you want to win state. That should be the ultimate goal. But for us, our minor goal is to get a win at state. We’ve been two years now and we’ve on two-and-barbecue.”
Following the season, Fessler called Gillette’s head coach and said, “I want to play like you.”
Since then, Evanston has implemented a new press that Fessler calls “chaos.”
“He talked to me for an hour, and then I got online and researched it,” Fessler said. “We probably practiced it for 40 minutes before our camps and the rest we just did during games. The girls had fun. It was up and down, and we’ve got some athletes, who are basketball smart. It was a really good fit for us.”
Evanston in three tournaments and went 20-2, but Fessler acknowledged the Lady Red Devils faced a number of smaller schools during the summer. Still, Evanston doubled its scoring average from the previous summer.
“I don’t know how that’s going to translate, but the girls are encouraged by the results,” Fessler said.