SHERIDAN — There are days when Arvada-Clearmont High School basketball coaches Sarah Walker and Cameron Spade walk in to practice and see only four of their players ready to go. Between other school activities, sickness and appointments, a few athletes missing leads to the coaches having to throw out their practice plan for that day.

Number of players is the hardest part of coaching at small school for Walker and Spade.

Practices and games each have unique challenges for the coaches. When there are fewer than five at practice, it is hard for the team to progress forward. The coaches still need to make sure the players in attendance are receiving a quality practice.

To help address the issues of number of players at practice, the boys and girls teams have combined practices all season.

Walker said the programs have been doing this since she began coaching at the school four years ago.

Each year ACHS teams only have seven or eight active players, making it hard to even have 5-on-5 drills in practice. Combined practices allow the players to operate at full speed in game-like situations.

Walker said having 5-on-5 experience is needed for the teams to be successful and for the players to operate game situations at full speed instead of just discussing them.

Both teams receive a quality look in practice. Spade said the Lady Panthers operate at a high level and challenge the boys team.

Walker said high school boys are naturally faster and jump higher than the Lady Panthers. This forces the girls to have smarter passes and move faster. Boys read the court differently than a girl’s team, creating a new mental challenge for her team. Walker tells her players if they can keep up with the Panthers, then they can handle any team they face in the state.

Practices can become competitive. Players are reminded the goal is not to hurt a teammate and sometimes the intensity needs to be dropped a bit. Walker said highlighting the purpose of the drill is more important at times than beating their teammate.

There are times the competitiveness is unrestricted and the athletes can give each other their best shot. Spade said shooting competitions are instances when the two the coaches do not restrict the intensity and desire to win.

Practices have their challenges but so do games when ACHS has not substitutions for the team. Both coaches have coached games this season when only five players have been available.

The lack of subs does not change the coaches’ general philosophy. The same offense and defenses will be executed, and Walker still expects the Lady Panthers to push the pace in transition.

Spade said he still spreads the court with a five-out motion offense. His biggest task is determining who will take the ball up the court and who is going to control the glass for the team, depending on which players are absent.

The Panthers have played without their main ball handlers, leaving the task to their top rebounder, junior Torrey Veach. Other players have also stepped into new roles for the team. Senior Colin Malli, one of the team’s best ball handlers, has enough size that he is sent to the post when the Panthers need to fill space in the paint.

This helps the players expand their skills and possibly create mismatches on the court. Spade said in 1A basketball, there are not too many post players with skills or guards that know how to play in the post.

Walker said it does not matter who is on the court, she expects the players to listen to the coach’s instructions. The players have been in the program long enough to know they might be asked to take on a new role for the team.

The biggest coaching changes in a game come in the form of how Walker and Spade use their timeouts. The coaches plan their timeouts to give their athletes a break. They communicate when these timeouts will come for their team. Walker said this allows a player to know they need to push for just a little bit longer and then they will receive a break.

As flu season pushes passes through Sheridan County School District #3, Spade and Walker hope to remain at full strength in the final weeks of the season.

ACHS host Upton High School Feb. 15. The Lady Panthers play at 1 p.m. and the Panthers play at 2:30 p.m.