It used to be local prep programs could put together a summer game schedule, consisting of 30 or more games, but that's no longer the case. At least schools still have the northern Nevada summer league. It's gone by different names and been hosted at different schools, but it's still going strong. That's thanks in large part to McQueen High girls basketball coach Joe Bischopink.
"The No. 1 reason we host summer league at McQueen is so we do have something local," said Bischopink, a 1996 graduate of Reed High in east Sparks. "I think we need something local, something where you can compete with your team consistently on a weekly basis. We need to keep our teams in shape and keep them playing basketball."
Bischopink has 15 different schools from across the region fielding varsity teams and competing in the Lancers' five-week league, which offers games on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Some schools play only once a week, but all get in 10 games over the course of the league schedule.
Sparks schools Reed and Spanish Springs are among that mix of schools participating in the annual summer tradition.
"It is nice to have the league locally," said Reed coach Sara Ramirez, who is gearing up for her eighth season at the helm of the RHS program. "It's nice to get a couple games a week, especially for your younger kids. It's nice to get them playing with your older girls. Sometimes in the winter there aren't as many opportunities to get them in. I don't do a ton of coaching. It's a time to let them play and get them comfortable on the court."
Still, Schopper admitted it would be nice to have a few more of those summer tournaments of the past still in place.
"It would be nice," she said. "We don't do much in July. We let the kids do more of their club stuff then. It would be nice to play in the league most of June and then have a tournament or two late in the month to kind of see how you've improved, how you stack up."
Schopper is a competitive coach and knows there is a lot to learn from winning but she freely admits summer hoops is less about winning and more about learning.
"Summer is more relaxed," she said. "You want the girls on the floor, getting excited about basketball. You don't want to put a lot of pressure on it."
That sentiment seems to be fairly universal for local coaches and players.
Myrissa Prince will be a senior at Spanish Springs when the new school year begins in August. Prince, one of the top perimeter defenders in northern Nevada and an all-league selection last winter, has played varsity basketball since she was a freshman for the Cougars. She is tipping off her fourth summer of high school hoops.
"The summer is a time for everyone to work on getting better while in the winter it's more about using your strengths. Everyone is a little more relaxed in the summer," she said.
Prince and her teammates are getting used to a new coach. Christine Eckles was the dean of High Desert League coaches before she stepped down after last season, following 12 years as the Cougars' girls hoop coach. Now, the SSHS program is headed up by Art Cardenas, a former assistant in the Spanish Springs boys hoops program. The local summer league is giving him a chance to evaluate the Cougars' roster.
"I just want to get more time with my team," he said. "Right now we're just trying to get better. We're a work in progress. We've got a new system and the girls are trying to get accustomed to it.
"I'll use this summer to evaluate and see what our strengths and weaknesses are, to see what our hustle mode is and see if we can make the blue-collar plays. The biggest goal is by the end of the summer, I hope we can be more comfortable with the offense and pick up some defensive philosophy. I'm not worried about wins and losses. I just want to be taking baby steps and getting better."
The last day of summer league is July 11. Schools can continue optional offseason workouts through the end of July, but must take a mandatory break during the start of the fall sports season. Optional workouts can resume in September. The first day of official practice for the 2013-14 season is Nov. 16.