The Angola Hornets girls basketball program has not had a losing season since 2013-2014. In fact, they have won 21 or more games in each of the last three seasons. Consistency and one of the area’s best players at the top of their roster is why Outside the Huddle has picked as our No. 7 team this preseason.
But part of that consistency will change. There will be a fresh face on the sideline for the first time since 2014 as Nick Burlingame has made the transition from Lakeland boys coach to the girls side at Angola. It was a move that surprised some, but something that the new Hornet coach targeted in on once former coach Brandon Appleton made the move to the boys side at Angola.
Burlingame is coming off a three-year stint leading the Laker boys. This will be his first year as a girls varsity basketball coach.
“I thought it was going to be a great opportunity for me. Angola is a destination for me, its where I want to be. As I looked at the opportunity, I saw what a great position this is,” Burlingame said. “This program has had a lot of success over the last few years and I look at it as an opportunity to come in and try to sustain that success, try to improve upon it.”
Again this season, defense and pressure in the full court is going to be something to watch. The Hornets are well known for forcing other teams into mistakes, especially at critical junctures. In 2019-20, the Hornets picked up 12.8 steals per game, led by Hanna Knoll‘s 3.7 steals per contest. That constant energy is something that is palpable even in preseason practices.
“We talk about controlling the controllables. Energy is one thing we can control every day; it is one thing so far that we haven’t had to coach,” Burlingame said. “They show up and they bring it, they are into it, they have enthusiasm. I love walking in to a loud, enthusiastic gym.”
Out in front of it all will again by Knoll, who took the Hornet program by storm years ago and now is the full leader as a senior. While her leadership by example in game has always shown, she will now step into that senior role of taking the real reigns. A season ago as an Outside the Huddle All-Area player, Knoll averaged a team high 16.8 points and shot 49 percent from the field and 39 percent from long range.
“She is probably one of the most gifted players I have ever been around. Everybody knows how talented she is on the floor, but what really stands out to me about Hanna is how her basketball IQ is so good. She is someone, as a coach, you feel like ‘I have to do my homework and do my job’ because she is the type of player, she knows what the other team is going to do. She already knows our sets, she is studying and she is prepared every day,” Burlingame said.
Despite graduating four seniors this past spring, the Hornets do have the luxury of experience. Including Knoll, they return five players who played in 22 or more games last season.
Behind Knoll at the head of the table is junior Lauren Leach, entering her third year of varsity play. Leach averaged 7.7 points and a team-high 4.5 rebounds last season. She brings a long height and agility to the Hornet lineup.
“I have very high expectations for [Lauren]. She is a great player, a great leader for us. She can score it inside, she can score it outside. I look for her and Hanna to really compliment each other well,” Burlingame said.
Seniors Megan Nisun (3.4 points per game), Mak Thompson (0.7 ppg) and junior Danielle Dunham (2.9 ppg) also return. They all spent time filling various roles a season ago, but will work to replace that graduating class’s intensity both on the perimeter and scrapping for rebounds.
Sophomore Tyrah Stillman is another solid defender who will see varsity time and fellow 10th grader Jaylen Fee adds another shooter to the fold. Burlingame also notes there will be some freshmen fighting for spots and although he didn’t name names, this 9th grade group is very talented and has been the talk of the area for several years.
That depth will come in handy with Angola’s schedule, especially once NECC season comes around rather quickly. The Hornets open up at Carroll and will spend November testing themselves with Norwell, Garrett and Concord on the schedule. They open December up battling conference for Fairfield and will have wrapped up all but four games on their schedule by the time the NECC Tournament starts on January 13.
“Being Angola, nobody is going to give us anything. We are going to have to come out and earn it every single day. The nice thing is, we have a lot of great girls that work really hard and are very coachable,” Burlingame said.
The Hornets have an amazing way of just gelling. Their regional final team from two years ago was very good. They replaced those pieces last year and connected well with a lot of tough games early. They are also a team we’ve seen impressively connect with former coach Brandon Appleton in the past. Is the connection there with Nick Burlingame immediately? Early indications at practices are that this group is excited and fill of passion in Burlingame’s vision. And that is an exciting prospect to have with a talented group.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
This actually comes down to the role players and how quickly that a very talented freshman group can come into their own. At the top, we know that Angola is just as strong as they have ever been, but changing roles for players not named Hanna Knoll and Lauren Leach makes us need to see Angola before we anoint them any higher in the power poll.
November 24 at Garrett
Deciding a winner in the NECC before December? Maybe not because this is a loaded conference yet again. But this is one that everyone should have circled. It was a slugfest last season that Angola won by six points and the last time the Hornets were on Garrett’s home court, they were beating Fairfield for a NECC tournament title.
The matchups are bountiful here from Knoll vs. Bailey Kelham and Leach vs. Morgan Ostrowski, on down the lineup. This could really break down as being the best girls basketball game of the season and very likely not the only time we see these two teams play this season.
Mak Thompson, Senior
A role player a year ago, Thompson was one of only five Hornets that appeared in all 24 games. And Burlingame has nothing but rave reviews of her during his time with her so far since taking over the program. Her time and numbers are going to soar and there is every chance that her defensive prowess is going to be a glue for the Hornets all season.
PREVIOUSLY IN THE COUNTDOWN