"We're a really young team, and we could have played a lot better," Marisa Stotler told me after Dobson lost to Sheldon (CA) in the first round of the Nike Tournament of Champions. It was a rough day for Arizona teams at the biggest girls basketball tournament in the country Thursday. In fact, only Salpointe advanced to the winners side of the bracket on Friday, but for many coaches and players, including Dobson's Stotler, it was learning experience.
"The California teams play a lot more physical basketball, but I like that." Stotler told me. She certainly has shown an affinity, and the 5'11" sophomore from Dobson has been a standout, putting up 15 points against a much bigger Sheldon (CA) team in the first round loss, and then 21 in a second round loss to Stockdale (CA). Dobson, whose varsity features five juniors and five sophomores, needs the experience.
"I played Varsity last year as a freshman, so I've got some experience, but most of our team is on the varsity for the first time, and this tournament is great for us because it will make us tougher for the season."
If Stotler gets any tougher someone those guarding her might want to move their kneepads to their mouths. A strong post player, Stotler has learned the advantages of elbows, and free throws.
"Alisha Moreno is the leader on this team. She's a senior, and we really take our cue from her, but not having Ashley (Moore) for the first half really hurt us."
Moore sat the first half of Thursday's game for disciplinary reasons, and without her quickness and ball-handling Dobson found themselves trailing 27-17 at the half. Sheldon is a big, athletic team that gave Marisa all she could handle and more inside, and without Moore she really had to pick up the scoring.
Marisa talked about their first half difficulties; "(Guard) Tiffany (Lytle) is a sophomore who just hasn't had a lot of experience at the Varsity level, so when they pressed she was really uncomfortable. I think this game will be good for her though, because towards the end of the first half she was starting to figure things out."
It became evident how valuable Moore is to this team in the second. "When Ashley is in, we don't worry as much about the press, because she handles the ball so well, and she helps me because she's so good with entry passes."
Even though Sheldon was much taller than the Mustangs (at times the Cali squad's front line would run 5'8", 5'10", 6'3") Stotler was fouled early and often, but she made them pay, going 9/12 from the charity stripe and grabbing 11 rebounds for the game.
"Coach (Dobson Head Coach Frank Campos) stresses tough defense, and he makes a lot of adjustments in game." After being beaten up on high/low post plays for the first half, Campos came out in the second and packed his team's defense in, giving Sheldon the outside shot. It worked, as Dobson was able to cut the lead to as little as three points in the third quarter, but Sheldon's depth really came into play in the second half. While Stotler and junior Savannah Nix were the only legitimate post players on Dobson, they had to contend with a combination of five different Sheldon players 5'9" or taller, and it wouldn't get any easier the next night against Stockdale, who feature seven posts 5'9" or bigger.
A candidate for the All Tournament Team even though her team has yet to win a game, Stotler is looking forward to this season, and the next two years. "Being so young might have hurt us now, but we'll only graduate two seniors after this year." She smiles, "So we'll be back."
They certainly will, and while this tournament is out of reach for the Mustangs, as the season kicks into full swing watch for Dobson to be a steadily improving team with the capability to knock off some highly ranked opponents. As far as Stotler is concerned her post moves are already getting her respect from rival players and coaches throughout the tournament.