The Marco Island Charter Middle School boys' and girls' basketball teams kick off their season today, playing Community School of Naples at the YMCA's Airnasium. The girls' junior varsity game starts the day at 4. p.m., followed by the boys' JV teams at 5 p.m., girls' varsity, 6 p.m. and boys' varsity, 7 p.m.
Coach Craig Fisher, in his seventh year with the girls varsity team, has five eighth graders back, along with some talented seventh graders.
Returnees include Brianna Blassneck, Danielle Langebeeke, Jordan Penzo, Hannah Valdez and Jasmine Vecchio. Eighth grader Sierra Hauk is new to the team.
Seventh graders are Marisa Anguilano, Taylor Bell, Lisa Feola, Katie Hogan, Jessica Johnson, Alicia St. Amour and Paige Krisman.
"We will have some height this season and I am looking forward to seeing what Sierra has to offer," Fisher said. "This is the tallest team I have ever had and I am happy about that."
Blassneck, Vecchio, Hogan and Hauk should be strong off the boards, along with Feola. The team is athletic, with many of the girls at least two-sport players.
"The first couple of weeks we have been stressing defense," Fisher says. "Our program is built around defense. Some girls are learning basketball skills for first time. We are trying to teach them movement and where to go without the basketball."
Scoring points may be the team's weakness. Fisher says guards, Krisman and Penzo, will help control the ball and get the offense going.
Unfortunately Blassneck and Hogan will miss the game against Community as they are on a cruise.
"Community is always a tough team," Fisher says. "This will be a tough start, but I have a great group of girls. I am looking forward to coaching them. We have some talent and we look to improve on the talent."
The boys varsity lost 10 players to graduation, including their main scorers.
"It will be a little hard at first because of the lack of depth," says boys coach Roger Raymond.
"Most of the team will be going against kids a year older and that is a huge difference at this age level."
Returning eighth graders are Mack Allan, Patrick Lane, Andrew Washak and Austin LaButte, who is out for two weeks with an injured right foot.
"Not having LaButte means we lose a potential scorer," Raymond says.
Eighth grader Dillon Prisco, who played in sixth grade, is back on the team.
"He has good size and you can't teach big," Raymond says.
Eighth graders new to the team are Jimmy Schuck and Krisjan Callit.
"Schuck is a good athlete and works hard," Raymond says. Callit has natural abilities, he just needs to work on fundamentals."
Seventh graders expected to help the team are Todd Stephenson, Kit Fowler, Victor Lora and Matt Browne.
"Stephenson looks good and is working on dribbling with both hands," Raymond says.
"Fowler has grown and should be good inside. Lora will be going up against some taller, bigger players, but still should be tough around the basket. Browne is a good athlete and is a good shooter. He will get better as he learns how to get a shot and be less timid."
Raymond has a lot of respect for Community School.
"Community School is one of the best coached teams we will play," Raymond says. "They are always ready. They play a strong zone press that we may not be ready for this early in the season. We'll have to play good defense and try to get a shot down the court every time on offense."
Charter School teams do not have another game until Thursday, Nov. 30, at First Baptist Academy.