BENTONVILLE — There’s always a certain amount of change that basketball teams deal with year in and year out because of different players, and Bentonville High girls coach Tom Halbmaier is no different in that matter.
“Our team changed a little bit,” Halbmaier said. “Whenever you lose some good senior leadership and bring some youth in, there’s always going to be a transitional phase.
“In terms of the camaraderie and the chemistry, it’s there. We just have to get more reps.”
Where Halbmaier’s changes may differ from other coaches is that he’s moved some returning players around into new roles and positions so this year’s Lady Tigers can mesh better. Krista Clark, a 5-foot-10 senior who recently signed last week with Missouri Southern, moves inside to a post position — the spot she played as a ninth-grader — after mainly playing a forward role.
Lauren Hargus, a 5-10 senior, steps away from the point guard role she has played for the past 2 1/2 seasons in order to play a shooting guard. That sets the stage for 5-7 sophomore Avery Hughes, who becomes the starter at point guard after filling in when Hargus needed a break last year.
“You still have the same caliber of players,” Halbmaier said of the changes. “We just have different players playing different positions, and they’ve done a really, really good job so far this year in practice.
“They were solid over at Greenwood. We just need to get more playing time and get that game experience in order to fight through the adversity.”
The changes will cause Bentonville to play as a smaller group this year, particularly inside. Clark is a little smaller than the post players the Lady Tigers have had in previous years, and 5-7 senior Abby Roberts takes over the power forward spot after being a guard.
“We’ll have to have team defense,” Halbmaier said. “There will be times when Krista will be outmatched as far as size and physicality, and when she faces a bigger kid there’s going to be a challenge.
“When you graduate a 6-foot wing player, you’re going to lose some size unless you have another one as a backup. The kids we have, it’s going to take some time but I’m excited about it because it brings a fresh perspective.”
Emma Palasak, a 5-11 junior, will help out at post and provide some size inside once she makes the transition from volleyball to basketball. Anna Kash, a 5-7 sophomore, earned a starting guard role in the season opener and led the Lady Tigers in scoring with 15 points.
Alli Clifton, a 5-11 sophomore, is also expected to help out inside, while 5-6 junior Jaren Hernandez and 5-3 junior Ally Spear will see some time as a guard role.
“The younger kids we have on this team, they don’t think twice about asking a senior ‘Hey, in this situation, what do we need to do,'” Halbmaier said. “I’m very pleased with that. They create this atmosphere where the younger players can come to them and feel comfortable.”
Even Halbmaier made a slight chance concerning Bentonville’s scheduling this year. Where the Lady Tigers have normally gone to Vinita, Okla., for a tournament next month, they have now turned their attention to a tournament in Florida where they will be tested.
“I’ve been wanting to do it for the past five or six years,” Halbmaier said. “It just never felt right, between the makeup of the team and the timing.
“You want your players to go to a good tournament down there and enjoy it. This is one of the first big tournaments that I’ve ever done, and I’m looking forward to it.”