With three of his players still participating in swimming and another just finishing up a volleyball season, Norris Lightsey had to cancel a basketball game this week because his Crystal River team doesn't have enough players yet.
Bruce Nelson's Citrus squad went ahead and played its scheduled game against Leesburg on Wednesday night, but without the services of star point guard Jessica Davila, whose volleyball season ended Tuesday night.
That's the kind of dilemma girls basketball coaches are facing more often these days because the schedules have been moved up so early in the fall. And it's making winning early difficult, if not impossible, coaches say.
"I had to take three freshmen from the JV squad and move them up just to fill out the roster until the swimmers get done or we wouldn't have enough to field a team," Lightsey said. "It's definitely a problem, especially with sports that overlap like swimming. We are supposed to be playing this week, but we had to cancel so we don't throw all our games in November. You try not to play three games a week, but you have to if you don't want to get so far behind (early in the season)."
Nelson, who has been pulling double duty over the past few weeks as the boys cross country coach, has been coaching girls basketball at Citrus since 1977. He remembers a time when girls teams had two weeks in October and most of November to practice, then scheduled games for early December. That system, he said, worked much better.
"We're playing a game tonight and we haven't even practiced three weeks," Nelson said Wednesday. "And it's much tougher for my program because we're in a little town and we don't have the summer programs like they do in other places. There's no summer league for my girls to play in short of Tampa or Orlando. So we'll play Leesburg tonight and I guarantee you they played 50 games last summer."
When it finally gets everyone on the court, Citrus will four starters back and two players who split time in a starting role last season. Davila, a senior, will provide the ball-handling, Carla Laughlin will contribute with scoring, Heather Bellamy will help with the inside rebounding and scoring, and Marcia Mullin will attempt to improve upon her rookie season at guard last year. Sophomore Candice Wright, who moved up to varsity near the end of last season, also will be among the starters.
The Hurricanes will have to find a way to replace Amanda Burdick, the team's second-leading scorer last season and No. 1 rebounder.
With the smallest team he has put on the court in about nine years, and lacking a dominant center, Nelson plans to play a different type of game this season.
"We're not real big and we're not great shooters, so if we're going to win we have to do it with pressure and good defense," Nelson said. "We want to press and fast break a lot, so it's important that we get people who are quick and can run. If we have to stand in and be in the trenches with some bigger teams, we'll be in trouble."
Crystal River returns four starters: senior guard Ellen Dittritch, who penetrates and is a pure shooter; Missy Calder, a senior guard with good ball-handling ability; senior forward Holly Edstrom, who can jump and possesses athletic ability and speed, and sophomore center Monique Bunch, a strong rebounder.
The Pirates finished last season 12-14 after winning just one game the two previous seasons.
"We've come a long way from the previous years," Lightsey said. "The difference is the kids we were playing the previous years are now juniors and seniors and the experience has helped a lot. We will have more depth at the inside positions this year, so some of our inside people will have to expand their roles."
Citrus began last season by compiling an 0-13 record. The Hurricanes didn't win a game until after Christmas, finishing the year 5-19. Nelson said the team is still about three weeks away from being ready to play, so he doesn't expect good things to start happening until around Thanksgiving.
"By December, I think we're going to be a very competitive team," Nelson said. "We just need a couple more weeks in the gym to be really ready."
Lightsey said it's difficult to tell what kind of team he'll have until he gets all of his players together. His hope is that the players will get in shape quickly enough to play a similar up-tempo style game as last season.
"If everything comes together, we think we can compete with just about everybody," Lightsey said.