New Fruita coach wants his players to be well-rounded
They have four girls 5-foot-10 or taller, the post players who Fruita Monument girls basketball coach Richard Atkins hopes will give the Wildcats a rebounding advantage this season.
But Atkins, in his first season as a head coach, has different ideas for the Wildcats.
He took the position with the hope of improving basketball at the school, and making his post players well-rounded is one example. He wants Vanessa Herrera, a 5-10 junior, Michelle Hunter, a 6-0 junior, Kassidy Fair, a 5-10 junior, and Taylor Eatwell, a 5-10 sophomore, to run the floor.
“We’re trying to get them to play a little guard,” Atkins said. “That’s kind of our goal, to get all of those taller girls to be able to be basketball players. Then I think we could have some of the taller kids take the ball up the court and not turn the ball over.”
Fortunately for Fruita, they have senior Lauren LaBonde, who can handle the ball, shoot the 3 and play stifling defense.
“I really think there’s a lot of potential for her,” Atkins said. “We’re really trying to encourage her to shoot the ball more.”
Last year, in Fruita’s 13-11 season, LaBonde made 30 of 113 3-point attempts and averaged 11.7 points.
Even more, LaBonde, who missed the first two weeks of the season but is expected to return Friday, averaged 3.4 steals per game.
The first-team all-league player, along with Fair, a second-team all-league selection who averaged 7.8 points and 5.2 rebounds, will lead the Wildcats.
Herrera led the Wildcats in rebounding last season with 5.5 per game.
The key loss for Fruita was senior Jessica Sinner, who hit 27 3-pointers last season.
The Wildcats placed third in the Southwestern League last season, going 6-4 in league and losing twice to rival Grand Junction.
But Fruita hopes to challenge the likes of Montrose and Grand Junction. To help counter the 3-point-shooting loss of Sinner, Fruita returns senior Eden Laase, who connected on 21 of 72 3-pointers.
Atkins has coached the nucleus of Fruita’s team — Herrera, Fair and junior Mariah Love — for the Supreme Court team of the Mesa County Junior Basketball League.
“The team we have now we know has the potential to be a good team,” Atkins said. “We’re in a transition period right now. We’re trying to get a little better. We have the ability to get a lot better.”
Sam Parks, a 5-foot-9 senior, will help take some pressure of LaBonde to score, Atkins said.
Also, Sonya Lopez, a point guard and off-guard, could be another key off the Wildcats’ bench.
“She really hustles,” Atkins said. “Her defense stands out in my mind. And we want to become a good defensive team.”
And that all starts with LaBonde at the top of the key.
“I think her competitive spirit is probably a real asset,” Atkins said, “because she works extremely hard all the time she’s on the floor. And that’s kind of a contagious type of thing.”
But Fruita’s No. 1 issue, Atkins said: Shooting the basketball.
It’s just one of the fundamental techniques Atkins is carving into the minds of his players, hoping to put the Fruita Monument girls back on the state’s basketball map.