By JOSH SIGLER AND KENNY HETZLER
Tipton’s girls basketball team is fresh off of a unprecedented season that saw the Blue Devils reach the 20-win plateau for the first time and win back-to-back sectional titles for the first time in a decade.
And even though the squad graduated arguably two of the best players in program history in Pennsylvania recruit Brooklyn Juday and Taylor University recruit Taylor Degenkolb, coach Nick Comer is confident he has a mix of veterans and newcomers that are capable of reloading.
“I think looking at the preseason rankings – they don’t mean much, but one thing I’ve told the girls is I think it shows a certain amount of respect that our program has garnered over the last two or three years with the job we’ve done,” Comer said. His team will begin the season ranked No. 6 in Class 2A. “Winning 39 games and winning back-to-back sectional championships has earned us the right to be ranked in the top 10 in 2A.”
Tipton returns five letterwinners, including returning starters in junior wings Kacie Juday (5-foot-9) and Lela Crawford (5-6). Juday was the squad’s second-leading scorer a year ago at 12.3 ppg. She also pulled down 6.4 boards per game and grabbed an area-best 134 steals.
Crawford added 7.8 ppg and 5.2 rpg a year ago, helping the Devils finish 20-5 and claim a Hoosier Conference title.
“We have two kids who have played huge varsity minutes in those last two seasons in Juday and Crawford,” Comer said. “They were key contributors in the sectional championships, and they’ll be the foundation of our team this year. They both had great summers with their AAU teams and worked hard on their game. But, we also have a core of good young players coming up that I feel good about, too.”
Senior post Shelby Shirk was expected to make a major impact this season before suffering a torn ACL during the preseason.
Junior Anna Critser will step into a starting role this season as a result. The 5-9 wing appeared in nine games as a sophomore, and has drawn the attention of Comer with her energy and athleticism. Senior Sara Overdorf (5-8) is back in the program for the first time since her freshman year and will work into the starting lineup immediately, where she will be called up to provide perimeter scoring for the Devils.
Freshman point guard Macie Lively (5-6) will round out the starters. Comer is excited about her ability to score and create offense for others.
Senior Destiny McCorkle (5-8) and freshmen Taylor Weddell (5-9) and Delaney Jones (5-6) will also be called upon to add depth for Tipton.
As for a season outlook, Comer says “It’s going to come down to toughness. I think we’re going to be really good offensively. Early on we may struggle as we adapt to a new offense and come into our own with all these young kids. I think by the end of the year we’re going to be a really high-powered offense, probably better offensively than we’ve ever been.
“But, it’s that defensive toughness that we’ve hung our hat on the last two years, and that’s really where we’re lacking right now,” Comer added. “That’s what we’re going to have to develop as the season goes on.”
Tri-Central enters the season looking for its fourth straight Hoosier Heartland Conference title, and a chance to finally get past Lafayette Central Catholic in the Class A Sectional 54 at Rossville, where the Trojans lost to the Knights 52-50 in the championship game last year.
“[We] had a great year as conference champs and had a chance again to win sectional.” Tri-Central coach Kyle Stage said. “We are going to continue to work on what we need to do to beat LCC. This year’s team has a lot of height and length that we didn’t have last year. We are also extremely athletic. Those would be the strengths of this team. Our weakness would be that we have very little varsity basketball experience. This group of girls has been practicing and competing against two teams that went 35-11 the last two years.”
Along with shooting for a fourth straight conference title, Stage would like to see his team get over the hump and win a sectional.
“Goals are always the same,” Stage added. “Get better every day, win conference, win sectional. We will be going for our 4th consecutive conference this year and I feel like we have a very good chance to win it. Carroll will be good along with Sheridan. Not sure about other teams yet. Sectional-wise, Frontier will be very good. They return their entire team and we were only the second team to beat them last year. Also, LCC is always a challenge. Clinton Prairie should be improved in sectional and conference.”
Tri-Central lost five players to graduation from last year’s team, which included Kokomo All-Area player Whitney Shaffer (17.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 2.8 steals per game).
The Trojans will try to replace her scoring with senior guard Morgan Burke (5-foot-2 height, .7 ppg, ,8 rpg,), forward Meagan Randles (5-6, .2 ppg, .9 rpg); junior guard Cecelia Ray (5-8, 2.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg), Hadley DeWeese (5-10, .8 ppg, .6 rpg), Shelby Ramsey (5-11, 1,3 ppg, .9 rpg), sophomore Whitney Revolt (6-0), and freshmen in guard Haley Farris (5-3), guard Kelli Kingseed (5-4) and forward Serena Quesada (5-4).
The Braves are looking to return to winning basketball. The last four years haven’t been so kind with a grand total of seven wins. Maconaquah finished last season 3-18 overall and 0-7 in the Mid-Indiana Conference.
“This year we have a group of seniors who have all been starting since either their freshman or sophomore years,” Maconaquah coach Jeremy Fewell said. “This is a great group of seniors in terms of their talent and leadership abilities and we are expecting significant strides as a team this year to help get us back above .500 mark and competing in the conference and sectionals.
“I think we are capable of getting ourselves out of the lower end of the conference and beginning to work towards moving up in the conference rankings and competing with the likes of Hamilton Heights, Western, Northwestern and Taylor,” Fewell continued, noting Benton Central, Western and West Lafayette look like the top teams in the Braves’ sectional. “It is very important that you are playing your best basketball come sectionals to make a deep run and that is what we are focused on as a team, continually striving to improve day in and day out so that we ensure that we are playing well going into sectionals.”
The Braves’ seniors are 5-foot-9 guard Taylor Hardwick (8.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2,2 steals per game), 5-9 guard/forward Keeana Walton (8.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.9 spg) and 6-0 center Audrianna Evans (4.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg.). Fewell has four juniors — 5-9 forward Tiffani Rossman (1.9 ppg), 5-7 forward Katelyn Turcheck, 5-4 guard Cynthia Miracle and 5-4 guard Kirstyn Sommers (2.4 ppg). And, he has four sophomores — 5-7 guard Kaleigh Atchley (4.1 ppg), 5-6 guard Ally Exmeyer, 5-5 guard Lynnsie Arion and 5-9 forward Jalyn Windsor.
“We have good height and athleticism with our starting five,” Fewell said. “We have to use that to our advantage and limit our opponents to one shot per possession on the defensive end and on the offensive end we need to be patient and look to get the ball inside to our post players and allow our penetrators to drive and score or drive and dish out to our shooters.”
But in order to get closer to the basket, Maconaquah will have to open its outside shooting, which is a concern to Fewell at the beginning.
“Right now it is early in the season and not all of our shooters have gotten their legs into their shots yet, so early in the year we are going to have to be very patient offensively until our shooters can get their legs underneath their shots and start knocking them down,” he said.
Cass is hoping for an improved showing in 2012-13 after finishing 6-15 overall and 2-5 in the Mid-Indiana Conference last season.
The coaching staff’s goal is to improve as the season goes on. Also, it hopes to challenge for an upper-division finish in the MIC and to compete in the sectional championship game. The last time that the Cass was in the top half was 2002-03 with a second place finish (5-2), and its last sectional title came in 2004-05.
The Kings’ top returning players are seniors forward Breanne Robertson, who averaged 6.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game last season, forward-center Maddie Eurit (5.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg), guard Emily Robertson (2.0 ppg) and junior point guard Maci Maupin (4.7 ppg, 2.0 steals per game).
Also returning are junior forward Whitney Lawson, sophomore center Paloma Arellano, sophomore guard Haley Johnson and sophomore forward Carley Weaver.
Cass’ coaching staff has noted that for the team to enjoy a winning season, the Kings will need to play to their strengths of getting the ball to the scorers, and playing good defense.
They will be looking to the three seniors and Maupin for experience, and the use of speed will be key both on offense and defense. But their weakness is going to be the inexperience of bench play. After the starting five, Cass will rely on sophomores and freshmen to fill in.
The Carroll Cougars finished last season on a sour note, losing their last three games to finish at 11-10 overall and 3-2 in the Hoosier Heartland Conference.
Carroll returns four starters from last years team. They are senior guard Kaitlin Ragan (10.3 ppg), senior post player Paige Spesard (3.8 ppg), junior post player Bailey Worl (5.0 ppg), and sophomore guard Carly Kingery (6.7 ppg).
“All four of those players have improved their game from last year,” Carroll coach Mike McCroskey said. “We are a little deeper team. We have good team speed and quickness. We have four legitimate 3-point threats in Spesard, Kingery, Ragan and Libby Eller. For the first time since I have been at Carroll, we have nice size with Worl [6-foot], Gabbie Evans [5-11] and McKayla Jackson [5-9].”
There are four goals that McCroskey would like to see Carroll achieve this year.
“Our goals are to compete for the HHC crown, the Indiana Kitchen Classic, Carroll Classic and of course the sectional and state tournament,” McCroskey added. “[We should be able to compete with] 3-point shooting, team speed, team experience and our depth. But, our numbers are low with just 13 players out for varsity and junior varsity. Our varsity success will hinge on the development of three freshmen playing varsity [in Eller, Jackson and Evans].”
As for the conference crown and post-season play, McCroskey looks for a strong battle.
“The conference is very balance this year,” McCroskey explained. “We feel we should be in the hunt. Sheridan, Clinton Prairie and Tri-Central should all be strong. On paper, Delphi should be the favorite up front since they only graduatd one player. Seeger and Fountain Central were hit hard with graduation. We feel that we should be able to compete with anyone in the sectional.”