If you have a good, open shot, take it.
That has been a big message from Marshalltown girls' basketball coach Tim Johnson to his squad this preseason. The Bobcats often passed up good shots last year on their way to a 4-18 record.
"We have got to put the ball up when we have the chance, and we need to make more shots," said Johnson, who will begin his fifth season as head coach. "Too many times we'd dribble it back out and take shots from farther away. When it is there for us, we have to score."
While scoring is a big emphasis this preseason, so is taking care of the ball. All in all though, Johnson said the Bobcats are working hard, practicing hard and are focused on turning things around in the Roundhouse.
"Everything is going well so far," Johnson said. "The practices have been intense, and the girls are pretty focused. This is a great group of girls. They have been nothing but positive."
It can be hard to stay positive if you are in the CIML and not ranked. Six of the state's top 10 ranked teams in Class 5A reside in the CIML, so Johnson knows turning things around will be a challenge and won't happen overnight.
"This is my fifth year, and we started when I first got here to get the youth programs going and it is a day-by-day, year-round process," Johnson said. "To be ranked in the top 10 in the state like some of the other schools in our league, the kids have to want to play basketball. We are trying to find kids who want to play basketball."
Some key players from last year's team are back this season to help with the rebuilding project. That list includes seniors Taylor Wagner, Eisha Oden and Lauren Mazour.
Oden is the leading returning scorer and rebounder from last year as she averaged 8.6 points and 10.5 boards (second-best in Class 4A) per contest, while Wagner scored eight points per contest and dished out 2.3 assists per game. Mazour was second on the team in rebounding at 5.6 boards per game and also scored around five points per game.
Johnson said other younger players are also surfacing this preseason, which gives him a belief that the Bobcats will have better shooters on the outside in 2012-13.
"We have those three seniors back from last year so that is a good core of returners, but we also have seen some of our younger players show the ability to shoot the ball," Johnson said. "Our strength will be rebounding and we should be a better shooting team than in previous years as well."
Some of the shooters Johnson is referring to include Amanda Hughes, a junior, and her sister Sam Hughes, a sophomore. Rachel Blagg, another sophomore, also is expected to collect quality minutes.
Brittanie McGrane, a 5-foot-10 senior, also returns as do juniors Lexi Vaughn, Jordyn Simbides, Emily Rebik, Phoebe Lynk and Kali Banks. Freshman Ellyn Boland rounds out the varsity roster.
The new Northern Division of the CIML's Central Iowa Conference includes Mason City, Fort Dodge and Ames. The Mohawks begin the season ranked No. 2 and feature Iowa State signee Jadda Buckley, while the Little Cyclones start the season ranked No. 7 in 5A and feature future Oklahoma Sooner Shaya Kellogg. Two of the Bobcats' four wins last season came against Fort Dodge.
"Everyone has it tough really," Johnson said. "The CIML is loaded. You have to be ready to put the work gloves on and go to work."
The other ranked teams in the CIML include top-ranked Southeast Polk, fifth-ranked Waukee, eighth-ranked Des Moines East and No. 10-ranked West Des Moines Valley.
The Bobcats averaged just 34 points per game last season, so Johnson is hoping a little more emphasis this preseason will help them turn that around and put more points on the board.
"We are trying to be competitive from that standpoint in practice," Johnson said. "We are charting offensive sets and giving the players points for certain things they do. If they don't meet a certain standard then we condition more or run the plays over. We want them to understand that we need to score more points."
The Bobcats also have focused on taking care of the ball during the early practices. Johnson said the turnover average was 25-30 during his first few years on the job, but the number dipped to less than 20 per game last year. A lot of the past struggles revolved around confidence, or lack thereof.
"We are going to need to handle the pressure full-court," Johnson said. "We can't be intimidated when someone comes up to guard us. We have to be more confident in what we are doing."
The first part of the schedule is favorable for the Bobcats as they host Des Moines North in Tuesday's season and home opener. And then they play Des Moines Hoover in the first game back from Thanksgiving break.
Marshalltown beat both North and Hoover last year so there is a good shot at starting the season with a pair of wins.
"I don't think we have ever started a season with a win since I have been here," Johnson said. "If we could get two wins that would be even better."