By Sarah Neubecker

Special for the Osceola Edition

LEROY — Though the Pine River fifth-grade girls basketball team focuses less on winning, and more on having fun, the team has won six of their seven games this season.

Coached by a former Pine River High School basketball standout, the girls have fun while learning to be tough players.

“I tell them it’s not necessary if you can make all the baskets, just keep running and keep getting the ball,” Coach Molly Tower said.

Tower was in fourth grade when she played on her first basketball team, and said being on a team when you are younger gives you an advantage when you get older.

“This gives the girls a lot of opportunities. It just puts them farther ahead,” Tower said.

The team practices once a week with the sixth grade team and has games on Saturdays. Tower said she thinks this batch of girls will continue to be successful players as they get older, if they keep working together as a team.

Emma Whitley, 9, is in third grade, but plays on the fifth-grade team. This is the first time she has been on a basketball team, and said her coach has helped her improve her defense since the beginning of the season.

Mary Whitley, Emma’s mother, thinks being on the team is a great opportunity for her daughter. She has known Tower and sixth-grade coach, Miranda Nelson, for many years and said the coaches serve as great role models for the players.

“They’re keeping it fun for the girls and teaching them (a lot),” Whitley said.  “They certainly know basketball.”

Tower and Nelson graduated from Pine River High School in 2011 and were teammates on the high school basketball team. They were both All-Conference athletes, and Tower was also All-State and a member of the Pioneer Dream Team.

“I’m just a beginning coach. I don’t know that many coaching techniques, I just know how to play the game,” Tower said.

But the coach’s lack of experience has not hindered the performance of either team, as the sixth grade team has also been successful, with six wins and three losses this season.

In high school, Tower and Nelson coached the girls during summer basketball camp, so they knew many of the girls before the season began.

Both coaches said they are excited at how well their players use what they have been taught in practice.

“They learn so much and they actually put that to use in the games,” Nelson said.

Tower, now a freshman at Ferris State University, hopes to increase participation as she coaches the fifth-grade team again next year.

“It keeps me young,” she said.