Freshmen on varsity basketball team show promising future


West Ottawa Girl’s Varsity takes on East Kentwood.

Kayla Lebster

This year in the OK Red Conference, excluding West Ottawa, there are four freshmen on the Girl’s Varsity basketball teams. West Ottawa alone has pulled up five freshmen to the varsity level, one more than the other five teams combined. These five girls are full of talent and experience, and transitioning onto the team this young hasn’t been as intimidating as the freshmen had anticipated at the beginning of the season due to the welcoming and positive attitudes that overflow from the coaches and older teammates.

   Freshmen Danielle Kuiper, Natalie Dunn, Abigail Sprick, Alia Mares, and Rachel Elms have gone to extreme measures in order to excel in the sport that they love. Five freshmen playing at a high school varsity basketball game is a very rare occurrence. Other varsity teams in the conference are typically made up of mostly seniors and juniors. However, by exposing freshmen to the atmosphere, they will have more varsity experience than almost all other players in the OK Red Conference by the time they are juniors and seniors. This will likely benefit West Ottawa in the long run.

   Getting to this level is not easy, though. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication from these girls to be placed on the varsity team. “We’ve been watching these girls throughout the years on their different teams, and we’ve watched them grow as players. They demonstrate good attitudes and are very coachable, which are two very important traits in a good basketball player,” Coach Jenna Plewes said. “Not only have they played on various teams, but they have also participated in summer basketball camps, workouts after school, and practiced on their own time. They also have a very good understanding of the game, which is necessary at this level of the game.”

   These girls are in no way new to the game, though. All having started on the West Ottawa Little Panther’s teams at a very early age, these girls have been playing basketball together for a large portion of their life. As they grew in talent together, the girls played for Lakeside Hoops, an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball team. “I feel like playing with [the other freshmen] before this season really helped. It wasn’t as scary to be part of such an older team when I had some teammates that I knew ahead of time,” Frosh. Danielle Kuiper said. While the team may not have the same amount of varsity experience as most of the other players in the OK Red Conference, they still have enough experience to play the game well and smoothly.

   Talent and experience can only go so far, though. A successful basketball team is full of positive energy all around, including how the players treat each other. For this season, it was important for the upperclassmen and the underclassmen to bond. In efforts to bring the girls closer, Coaches Jenna Plewes and Mike VanHekken have put together multiple team-bonding activities such as team dinners, team grocery runs, and more.“I feel as though I’ve gotten really close with some of the older players that I didn’t even know before this season. We’ve all become like a big, basketball family,” Frosh. Natalie Dunn said. “Being a part of the varsity team with these outstanding girls has definitely helped me develop as a player. I’ve had to quickly learn to adapt to the faster tempo and bigger, stronger players. Playing against all these really good players with teammates that I trust and have confidence in will definitely help me in the future because I’ll be used to the style of varsity games.” While players at this stage should be self-motivated, they also thrive off of a certain amount of encouragement and inspiration from coaches, teammates, trainers, etc.“While I was nervous to be playing on varsity at my age, my older teammates were very encouraging and welcoming. They made me feel like I was a part of the team from day one, and that attitude hasn’t faded through our season,” Dunn said. It took a lot of hard work from the upperclassmen, both on and off the court.

   Girl’s Varsity Basketball’s current record stands as 4-10, and their next home game is on February 12 at 6:00 P.M. Come out and support your fellow Panthers!