Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
Four of the five players who started for the Helias girls basketball team in the first game of last season are no longer at Helias. Also gone is the Lady Crusaders’ head coach the past four years, Doug Light.
But for first-year coach Sarah Eagan, she’s plenty happy with what the Lady Crusaders do have.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group my first year,” she said. “The girls have been wonderful and have welcomed me with open arms. It’s been awesome.”
Eagan’s head-coaching career officially gets underway at 6 p.m. today when the Lady Crusaders host Blair Oaks in their season opener.
Helias defeated the Lady Falcons at home in Friday’s Jamboree, 28-6, giving the Lady Crusaders a sense of what to expect in their first game of the season.
“We saw them this summer, too,” Eagan said, “so that helped, too. It gives us a good idea. Playing (Friday) gives us a couple days to come back and work on what we really need to work on before we start off this season.”
The Lady Crusaders are coming off a 15-12 season in which they lost in the second round of districts. But right now, Eagan isn’t too worried about numbers.
“We’ve set small goals, but honestly I just tell them day by day, work hard, be a good teammate, control the controlables and we’ll do our best,” she said.
They’ve done one of those particularly well thus far.
“I think as far as being a great teammate, they have really been great teammates this week,” Eagan said. “And as far as this last week, I just tell, they’ve come closer as a family.”
From last year’s season-opening lineup, Helias lost Darcy Baird, Molly Sandbothe, Katlyn Cowell to graduation and Molly Light to transfer.
The starter who is still on the roster, however, is certainly an important one. Luci Francka, who had 18 points in the Jamboree, returns for the Lady Crusaders.
Francka (5-9, guard), Mai Nienhueser (6-1, forward) and Olivia Johanns (5-10, forward) make up the senior class for Helias. Nienhueser, who tied Francka with a team-high 18 points across the three scrimmages, did not start in last year’s season opener because of an injury.
Francka earned Central District honors from the Missouri Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association for her play last year.
“I know the underclassmen look up to her so much,” Eagan said of Francka, “She’ll be looked up to vocally on and off the court as well, so her, May and Olivia will play a huge role in our success this year.”
The Lady Crusaders are bolstered by a group of six juniors — Ashley Rehagen, Morgan Wieberg, Kelsey Schenewerk, Ella Ward, Claire Ludwig and Maria Galbraith. Rehagen and Wieberg began last season on the varsity squad as well.
Eagan is coming off of two years of experience as a graduate assistant at Truman State. Lady Crusaders assistant Biana Szafarowicz came with her to Helias. Assistant Alan Lepper returns from last year’s coaching staff.
“It’s good to have a familiar face back this year for sure,” Eagan said of Lepper.
Szafarowicz brings some familiarity as well.
“She’s run the offense we ran at Truman,” Eagan said, “so it’s good to have somebody with experience as well.”
After having only worked as an assistant, Friday’s Jamboree gave Eagan her first taste of head coaching.
“It’s totally different,” she said. “I think the hardest part right now is just being more vocal. I think I sat back and kind of watched (at Truman State). My sister is the head coach there so I’ve had the privilege of learning from her. So it’s kind of hard being the vocal part of it. It comes with time.”