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Cardinals enter 2017-2018 season with high expectations

Senior Katie Miller practices her defensive stance during practice. The Cardinals stressed how important it will be to improve their team defense in the 2017-2018 season. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Junior guard Allie Murphy leads a ball handling drill at Prescott's third practice. Murphy averaged 9.2 points per game last season, and led the Cardinals in assists. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

"Don't give up the middle drive. Don't give up the middle drive," Prescott girls basketball head coach Ron Murphy repeated during his team's third practice of the 2017-2018 season. "Can we make that into a song?"

If you ask Murphy's players what part of their game they're focusing on improving this season, they'll unanimously respond with "team defense."

In fact, the Cardinals girls basketball team brought in Prescott's boys head coach Nick Johnson to teach them some new defensive drills during their first week of practice.

"I think that's going to help us a lot," senior Katie Miller said.

Prescott finished 9-14 and fifth in the Middle Border Conference last year, but with a stronger backcourt, the Cardinals plan to far exceed last year's results.

"I wouldn't say it's a rebuilding year," Murphy said. "It's a year to build on.

"We expect to be much better than last year. That's our plan."

Murphy's team's plan may not be too lofty considering the team returns four of its five 2016-2017 starters.

Two of those starters, Allie Murphy and Miller, will be third-year starters this season. Murphy averaged 9.2 points and 2.9 assists last year, while Miller led the team in rebounds (6.2 per game).

Mackenzie Carey, another 2016-2017 starter who returns this year, was third in scoring on the team last year with an average of eight points per game.

As for newcomers, the Cardinals picked up Haylee Yaeger, former Hastings student-athlete, who'll add some height to the team's lineup. Yaeger was also student of the week during the Cardinals' first week of practice.

Yaeger, McKenna Johnson and Faith Stiles are all 5'10 or taller, according to coach Murphy. The team is not as small as they've been in the past, but the Cardinals will still rely on one aspect of their game that they've been dependent on in years past: their speed.

"We've done a lot of conditioning in the first couple days of practice," coach Murphy said, "and we will continue that."

Miller said she wants opponents to view the Cardinals as a fast team that runs the court and that teams have a hard time keeping up with.

"We're going to be a lot faster than we were last year," coach Murphy said. "You can print that."

It's obvious that the Cardinals have high hopes for the upcoming season, but how will they turn those hopes into positive results?

They'll turn to coach Johnson's boys team to remind themselves that hard work can go a long way.

"Getting to play in the state championship ... that's obviously what you play for," Carey said. "It's just cool to see that if we put in the work, we can be there, too."

Carey said that in a small town like Prescott, if a team qualifies for state, "everyone" comes out to support their team at the Kohl Center.

"It inspires us a little bit more to get there knowing that our community would be there supporting us."

"It's an experience that every athlete dreams of having," Allie Murphy said. "It's surreal."

The Cardinals are ranked third in the Middle Border Conference preseason rankings behind No. 1 St. Croix Central and No. 2 Amery, but have no intention of being less than the best for long.

Coach Murphy set the tone for the season by saying, "We're not happy with third."

Prescott will begin their journey to the top of the rankings on Tuesday, Nov. 21 in their home opener against St. Croix Falls. The Cardinals' first of many 2017-2018 tip offs is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.