The lack of player development due to the effects of the pandemic has been among the most discussed topics early into the basketball season. And you’d have thought among the most vulnerable to it would be the talented freshman prospects from last winter who are now looking to take that sophomore step.
And then again, maybe not.
Through the first three weeks of the season, Longmont’s Christine D’Epagnier is among the second-year players in the area who’ve taken a drastic leap forward despite the adverse offseason.
“I just don’t have enough great things to say about Christine,” Trojans coach Wade Kingsbury said.
Coming off a solid freshman season where she was a strong addition to a relatively senior-heavy squad, Kingsbury said he sees a different, more mature player in D’Epagnier.
Her game pops of energy, the kind of play that draws you in from the bleachers. Her drive seems to never run out.
D’Epagnier, who is averaging 17.3 points per game through four games, was among the high school players who were able to play club basketball over the summer. It was still different, she said, as COVID-19 restrictions led to fewer games and tournaments.
The sophomore made up the time on a hoop in her front yard. Her coach said she shoots for two hours a day.
“I definitely had to change how I was going to get better,” D’Epagnier said.
On the court and off it.
Before Wednesday’s game against Centaurus, Kingsbury said D’Epagnier shot him a text. The sophomore had just watched clips from the teams’ games from the year before and had thoughts.
“She was like, ‘Hey, here’s a couple things I noticed I thought did well that we could put in,’” Kingsbury said. “Here’s a kid who is light-years ahead of most of her peers. Not just skill or athletic ability — which she is ahead of most kids there, too — but just her maturation on the way she thinks about the game and wants to be the best she can be.”
She’s not alone, either.
The growth from Year 1 to 2 appears to be a trend at Mead. Last year, Elijah Knudsen elevated his game on both ends of the floor while pushing his scoring average from 1.7 points per game to 11.6 as a sophomore. Then this winter, fellow-guard Nick Basson seems to be doing something similar as he’s up from 1.3 points as a freshman to 13 through four games.
When asked about the comparison, Knudsen said he believes both he and Basson worked to expand their games following their freshman seasons. Focusing on ball handling and distributing was key in getting more opportunity and success as a sophomore.
“Nick has also gained more confidence from last year to this year, which is huge,” Knudsen added.
At Centaurus, meanwhile, sophomore Laura Gensert is around the same scoring average she had a season ago. But Warriors coach Chris Mischke said the points are coming more effectively this season.
“The biggest difference is she’s willing to take it into the paint,” he said.
Gensert, averaging 12.5 PPG through six games, said she played only a few club games during the pandemic and — like others — had to work on her game alone. She said the long spans without playing with teammates was eye opening.
“I think in some ways I definitely took it for granted last year,” Gensert said. “During this, I learned so much on how important basketball is to me and how important it is to play with my team.”
Elsewhere, Monarch’s Natalie Guanella and Lyons’ Tucker Mills are both leading their teams in scoring as sophomores. Guanella is averaging 19.2 PPG through five games, while Mills scored 25 and 23 in back-to-back games this season.