After leading the Skyline Eagles to a state championship and being named to 5A's all-tournament team as a sophomore, saying that Dani Peterson set a high standard for the rest of her high school career would be quite the understatement.
Peterson, a junior center for Skyline's basketball team, accomplished more in her first full year on campus than most players do in an entire high school career. After enjoying so much success so early, some might argue that a dropoff is all but inevitable.
In addition to the threat of post-championship complacency, Peterson must now deal with the idea that opposing coaches will be game-planning to stop her. She may have taken 5A by surprise in 2005, but that isn't likely to happen again.
"I'll probably get doubled a lot more than I did last year," says Peterson. "But I think that we have the depth to handle it. We have some secret weapons that we didn't have last year."
In spite of the Eagles' depth, Peterson knows full well that the team as a whole will be counting on her to be a consistent force in the middle. Standing just over 6 feet tall, Peterson is the lone Eagle with the combination of size and athleticism to truly dominate the center position.
"I've been working hard to become a better all-around player," she says. "I've been working on my defense and my rebounding, but one area where I'd really like to improve is in my mental game. I want to play smarter and be a leader on the court."
Determined to become a more complete basketball player, Peterson embarked on a grueling off-season training program that would put many collegiate conditioning regimens to shame.
While much of the competition was out tanning, she spent her entire summer lifting weights and testing her mettle in elite tournaments. She even spent the fall as a defender on Skyline's girls' soccer team, an adventure that doubtlessly improved both her aerobic fitness and overall toughness.
Unfortunately for the rest of the state, Peterson's work paid off in a big way. Coming into 2006, she is stronger and more confident than she was as a sophomore and has also increased her range, making her a threat to score from outside the paint.
"Dani is a more experienced player than she was at this point last season," says Skyline head coach Deb Bennett. "She's a lot stronger, which makes her better with her back to the basket."
Although Bennett admits that Peterson's game still has plenty of room for improvement, the coach isn't shy about praising her star center and doesn't bother to hide the excitement when talking about the upcoming season.
"I'm really excited about our team," says Bennett. "We have great depth and experience. Dani is looking good right now, and she should only get better as the season goes on."