Before play began last Friday in a set of weekend games that dropped the team to 0-2 to begin the season, the Haines girls’ basketball team knew it was facing one of the region’s top teams in Metlakatla.

“We knew what we were up against,” said Coach Greg Brittenham. “We knew they would come out with great intensity and it was everything we expected and more. If anything, it’s on me for not preparing the girls’ well enough to handle the pressure, but there were no surprises.”

If indeed there were no surprises in the game plan presented by Metlakatla, then it seems fair to say the challenge confronting Haines is steep. In order for them to be among the top teams in the region this season, they must solve one of the great team sports mysteries and develop, in one season, the kind of trust and team chemistry it often takes high school athletes an entire career to develop.

If nothing else, Brittenham believes his team is up to the challenge following the wide-margin defeats.

“Those girls played their hearts out,” Brittenham said. “They battled for the entire 32 minutes on both nights. Even the opposing coach commented on how impressed he was by our girls’ unrelenting efforts. I could not be more proud. Just the way they competed has me excited to get back in the gym and coach these girls.”

While their coach’s enthusiasm is obvious, it remains to be seen if the players will push themselves and each other to meet the challenges before them.

Will they, as Brittenham asked rhetorically, “do the necessary things to improve upon the highlights of the weekend?” Those things include Kiana Donat grabbing a defensive rebound and then outpacing everyone else on the court for a full-court layup and her first two career points, and Lindy Hill going two-for-two from the free-throw line for her first two career points.

Will Raine Winge, whose first two career points came after a timeout plea by Brittenham to shoot more, continue to follow her coach’s advice and not hesitate to take the open shot?

Furthermore, how will Jordan Stigen, Tulsi Zahnow, Brittney Bradford and Makayla Crager – the only returning upperclassmen from last year’s team – settle into their roles as this year’s leaders?

And lastly, who will emerge as the team’s lead-by-example player? The person who inspires everyone else to push beyond their own limits simply because they don’t want to let that person down? Will any individual emerge or will they all?

The team’s next action is at home against reigning state champion Petersburg on Jan. 6-7.