This defense never rests: Placer's Lady Hillmen to play physical brand of basketball

By: Matthew Kimel, Journal sports editor
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Ari Jensen was sporting a little black-and-blue mark on her left arm last week.
Basketball season hasn’t started yet, but the third-year varsity shooting guard and her Lady Hillmen plan on playing physical defense this year. 
“We push each other,” said senior point guard Kerry McCullough, who gave her longtime teammate Jensen the bruise. “Sometimes on the court it gets a little aggressive. We just push each other — it’s a battle out there. I’m working on my defense. That’s what we’ve been working on. We’re looking to be the Placer team of old to where people are afraid to bring the ball up the court.”
Coach Tony Camillucci has his girls, who missed the playoffs last year, working hard in preparation of striving to make it back to the postseason. 
“We started practicing hard about (three) weeks ago, going three hours a day working on improving ourselves,” Jensen said. “It’s going well. It’s hard on us but we’re getting better every day. It’s worth it. We’re weight lifting to get stronger and working on our plays and making everything smoother with our team.”
This year’s squad consists of 17 players and, according to Camillucci, could feature a different lineup every week. 
The Lady Hillmen have nine seniors, six juniors, a sophomore (Raquel Quirarte) and a freshman (Bailey Vanderdoes). They figure to have a strong post presence with two 6-footers (Maddie Graham and Vanderdoes) and an abundance of guards in Jensen, McCullough AKA The Floor General and Elena Daniel.
“For the first time in a long time we’re too deep in every spot,” Camillucci said. “I think we have 10 players that can theoretically start.”
Is that a problem?
“That’s a good thing for a coach,” Camillucci said. 
Placer tips off its season Monday at Earl Crabbe Gym when Roseville comes to Auburn for a 6 p.m. Foundation Game. 
Pioneer Valley League play gets under way at home with Colfax coming to town on Jan. 9.
“It’s very even and competitive,” Camillucci said of the league forecast. 
 The coach is optimistic his girls can return to the playoffs this year, as only 15 wins on their 27-game schedule are needed to qualify. Last year Placer was 14-12 and finished 5-5 in the PVL, good for fourth place. 
“It’s a goal, it’s something we’ve talked about,” Camillucci said of the playoffs. “I think it’s feasible.”
Behind senior leadership — and physical defense — that doesn’t sound out of reach.
“It’s my last year and all I want to do is go hard, go all out,” McCullough said. “You only get to do this once. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.” 
Said Jensen: “As a senior, I’m looking forward to giving back, helping the younger ones on the team like Baylee and really pushing hard my last year.”  
Reach Matthew Kimel at Follow him on Twitter @matthewkimel