Pioneers girls basketball hosts the Sandy Tournament this week

by: FILE PHOTO: KRISTOPHER ANDERSON - Sophomore Raquel Pellecer is one of the few returning players on the Sandy Pioneers basketball team.

With a team composed of almost entirely newcomers and a shortened number of days to practice before the first game of the season, the Sandy girls basketball team has endured a crash course in head coach Matt Gist’s run-and-gun offense. The season starts this week, and as expected, the games have arrived sooner than desired.

Regardless, Gist is excited to see how his team will look when the Pioneers host the first girls “Sandy Tournament” this Friday in the newly build gym at Sandy High School.

“We don’t have everything we need in yet, but we’re feeling pretty good,” Gist says about his team.

The four-team tournament begins at 5:30 when David Douglas plays Hood River. The Pioneers will follow that game by facing Franklin — which Sandy beat 65-27 in its season opener last season — at 7:15. The losers of the two games will play Saturday at 5:30, and the winners will play at 7:15.

Gist is high on Sandy’s chances to reach the final game, saying that of the three schools, his team matches up best with the Quakers.

In their limited practice time, the Pioneers have focused on adapting to playing at a fast tempo and hopefully creating chaos for their opponent. With so many new players, many who are only now being exposed to the system, there’s a steep learning curve and still weeks to go before it will seem seamless. But facing an opponent like Franklin, another 5A school that went 1-22 last season, should be the exact introductory game Sandy desires.

“It’s a good game to start off with,” Gist says. “We’ll be able to experiment with some different stuff.”

From pre-season preparation the coach has learned that he has a better shooting team than ones he’s had in the past, and he feels that will be a strength entering the year. On the flip side of things, he believes rebounding is an area where there’s a lot of room to improve.

Gist is also interested in seeing how well his team protects the ball and knows that turnovers will dictate success in this tournament and throughout the year. With a young team still in the entry-level stages of learning a run-and-gun offense, turnovers could be the biggest challenge.

“We’re going to put a huge emphasis on rebounding and taking care of the ball,” he says.

If the Pioneers were to face David Douglas, the game would be played at a pace Sandy is more familiar with. The Scots play with the same up-tempo style, but they’re an older team and more adept to that pace, Gist says. Turnovers, a key factor for both teams, may seem like less of a variable for the Scots.

He adds that David Douglas tries to outscore its opponents, while the Pioneers will put a greater emphasis on defense.

“They definitely want to get the ball and score,” Gist says.

Hood River could give Sandy some trouble.

Each possession is critical against the Eagles, which went 9-15 and ranked 25th. They’re a team that plays at a much slower pace and is patient when looking for shots.

When facing a team that limits the offensive possessions of their opponent, rebounding well will be important.

Gist says the team that establishes the pace of the game — whether it’s Sandy speeding things up or Hood River slowing things down — most likely will win.

“Hood River is a tough team in regards to tempo,” says Gist, whose team lost to the Eagles 32-29 last season. “They love to dictate the speed of the game.”

This tournament will provide Sandy an opportunity to hone its skills of an upbeat style against opponents who aren’t overwhelming.

Gist admits that acclimating to the system will be a long process, but he’s encouraged by the team’s unity and believes that’ll be important to overcoming potential struggles.

“There will be tough times,” he says. “But as tight as they are right now, they’ll be able to get through just about anything.”

And he adds that his team is just eager to get the season under way.

“The girls are itching to get going,” Gist says.

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