The Huron girls’ basketball team rides into Districts this week with an impressive overall record, a long winning streak and a first round they should have few problems with on paper.
But the last two words of the previous sentence is the qualifier. And Huron Coach Waleed Samaha might be in his first year coaching the talented River Rats but he’s well versed in how to prepare a basketball team for a big game. And from here on out, they are all big games.
Huron has beaten every team in its Districts except Pinckney (9-11) and Dexter, the River Rats’ opening opponent at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 26 at Pioneer High School. The Dreadnaughts come in with an 11-9 record and are always well-coached and never an easy assignment.
Samaha has seen plenty of positives from this team during a very successful regular season. The River Rats finished off the regular-season schedule Friday night with a win over Pioneer to finish at 18-1 overall and 12-0 in the SEC heading into the state playoffs.
“We finished really strong and have improved defensively and we’re still improving,” Samaha said following his team’s 48-29 win over Pioneer on Friday night. “That’s the beauty of this team. We’ve had success but we are still finding ways to improve especially on the defensive end. We have found some things that work for us and that’s what we need to take into the tournament.”
Huron opened the season with a 66-40 loss to defending Class C state champion Detroit Edison way back on Dec. 10. The River Rats have won 17 in a row since, including impressive non-league wins over Belleville (42-38), River Rouge (54-39), Detroit Collegiate Prep (45-37), Arbor Prep (46-36), Dakota HS (57-47) and Chelsea (38-34).
So while the SEC hasn’t been one of the strongest conferences in the state, the River Rats have played some solid non-conference opponents in preparation for this week and hopefully beyond.
“We played a great schedule,” Samaha said. “We have had some really good, competitive games. It’s not easy playing teams in your conference a second time because they’ve now seen what you can do and prepare a little better. Pioneer (Friday) played well against us. There were some things we weren’t doing well in the first half and I thought we improved and played much better in the second half.”
What makes Huron tough is they don’t have one or two players who can hurt you – they have several options offensively and their defense has become a team strength. They have incredible depth and a good mix of veterans (four seniors) and youth (one freshman and four sophomores).
“Our depth has been our strength all year,” Samaha says. “We have equal expectations for who is in the game and who is coming off the bench. We have expectations for each position and that’s what we want to accomplish at each position regardless of who is playing. If you want to be on the floor, this is what we need out of you.
“Our practices are very competitive and when a player goes into a game she knows exactly what is expected.”
What’s expected now is a long playoff run, at least on paper. But it’s a one-game focus on the court that the River Rats are focused on at the moment.
“We want to have everyone healthy, and go in with a full squad,” Samaha says. “These girls have done a really good job of focusing on the next game. We purposely didn’t set any long-term goals. Of course the real long-term goal is to win a state championship. But we don’t talk about winning our conference or winning our district. We talk about winning the next game and focus on what’s in front of us.
“We’ve been laser focused on having good practices and improving. We won our conference three games ago and we never even talked about it.”
The only thing the River Rats are talking about now are the Dreadnaughts. Everything else is just on paper.