By Grant Lucas

The Bulletin

By Ryan Cruz’s estimation, in the three or four years leading up to last season, Summit struggled to close out games. Painfully often, the Storm would find themselves in a closely contested battle, only to come up short on the scoreboard.

Not last season.

Despite a lack of size — no player on the Storm’s 2012-13 girls basketball roster stood taller than 5 feet 9 inches — Summit reeled off 18 wins, posting an 11-3 record in games decided by fewer than 10 points. It was their execution late in games that helped the Storm post the second-most wins in program history.

“That was a difference-maker for us last year,” says Cruz, the sixth-year Summit coach. “Our girls believed that those last two minutes of the game, we were going to win. We won a lot of those games. If we can continue to have that mindset this year … I think there’s going to be a lot of close games, but it’s going to be whether or not we make the right decisions down the stretch.”

With all-Intermountain Conference guards Raja Char and Sarah Heinly returning — along with Emily Hasenoehrl, an IMC honorable-mention guard last season as a junior — Summit looks to springboard off a standout 2012-13 campaign, during which the Storm took second in the IMC and reached the state playoffs for the first time since 2009. But Summit’s exit in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs, Char says, is still fresh on the Storm’s minds.

“We want to do better than we did last year,” the senior says, noting that Summit’s quick end to the 2012-13 season — a 57-29 loss to Corvallis — left a bitter taste.

“With our group, I think there’s the potential to do better and make it to (Matthew Knight Arena, the final site of the 5A state tournament).”

The tools are there to advance to the state tourney, especially with Heinly, a sophomore, and Char — the top two single-season scorers in Summit’s history — on the floor. Still, the Storm are in a similar position as last year’s group, with only two players listed taller than 5-8.

“We’ll be small. We don’t have a whole lot of size, but we hope to use our basketball smarts to put us in a position to be in every game,” Cruz says. “I think the key, again, is going to be the defensive end, and whether or not we give up second- and third-chance opportunities on the glass.”

With a lack of size, Cruz says the Storm will be more disciplined offensively. Rather than taking the first available shot, he expects his squad to be patient, which could provide a better scoring opportunity while limiting the number of possessions for opponents.

That deliberate offensive approach will be key, Cruz says, as will the Storm’s late-game defense. Fortunately, Summit will be able to rely on its bench.

“This will be a deeper team than what we had last year in terms of what we can provide off of the bench,” Cruz says. “We’ve been limited the last four or five years with that. Although we won’t have a lot of size, if we can stay disciplined with what we need to do, I think we’ll be in most games.”

The Storm are driven, Cruz emphasizes, and Heinly points out that they are more committed to the cause.

“(Compared with) the past, this year I can definitely see the girls want it more,” Char says. “We’re all in it, we’re all focused, we all know what our goal is. And nothing, really, is going to stop us. … We want this goal. We want to make it to state.”

With Char and Heinly leading the way, and with Hasenoehrl added to the mix, Cruz says this Summit team is hungry for more.

“In the last four or five years, I think that this is probably the hungriest group I’ve had in terms of wanting to compete, wanting to get better day in and day out,” Cruz says. “More importantly, they all get along. I think the team chemistry is there. … I believe that this is a team that’s full of winners and will compete every night.”

“Last year, we wanted it so bad, and we almost had it,” Heinly says of the IMC title. “Now that we’ve seen how close we got, I think we can definitely apply ourselves and do it.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0307, .