By JOSH SIGLER
After back-to-back seasons below the .500 mark, the Kokomo High School girls basketball program is eager to usher in a new era.
Equipped with a formidable combination of youth and experience, preseason practice has been a roller coaster ride for coach Jason Snyder, who enters his seventh season with the program.
“It’s a lot of fun, but this has been the toughest year for me to determine the difference in the group right below [the upperclassmen] between the varsity and the JV,” Snider said. “That’s making us a better team. Those girls push us every day in practice. We have some sophomores who will push to play, and some freshmen who have come in and really done a nice job. We will see some freshmen get some varsity minutes early on, as well.
“I’m like the direction in which we’re headed, and I’m excited about our future.”
Kokomo opens tonight, at home against Northwestern.
Kokomo returns six letterwinners who saw significant minutes a season ago, led by 6-0 senior post Anastacia Kirby, who led the Kats with 10.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. The KT All-Area player set a Lady Kats record by posting double-doubles in six straight games, with the last of those games coming against eventual Class 4A state champion North Central.
“Anastacia last year, especially after Christmas break, really picked up her aggressiveness to another level,” Snyder said. “She had that streak of double-doubles after Christmas where she was rebounding well and was aggressive going to the basket. That’s something that, through the summer with her AAU team and work with us, she’s been able to continue to improve. Her experience and ability is very exciting, and we think she definitely has her best basketball in front of her.”
Classmate guards Kendra Ryker (7.1 ppg, team-best 48 steals), Brayana Fowler (3.1 ppg) and Bri Poe all return with a plethora of experience as well, while juniors Alanis Jones (5-10) and Jasmine Love (5-6) also saw extensive time on the floor last season for Kokomo.
Juniors Cierra Tinder (5-5) and Iesha Wallace (5-5) add upperclassmen depth, while sophomore post Gabby Taylor (6-0) will look to give the Kats another presence in the paint.
Five freshmen have been brought up to the JV-varsity level, and all may end up seeing floor time at the varsity level before the season is said and done.
Leading that charge are 5-5 point guard Kaila Stiner and 5-8 post Allie Lyons-Lowe, who will begin the season on the varsity roster.
Post Emily Bailey (5-10), guard Quaynika Merriweather (5-6) and post Sieara Langley (5-9) are also freshmen who have all had bright moments during the preseason and may see time at the varsity level at some point during the campaign.
Snyder has singled out two areas — turnovers and shooting percentage — that need improvement this season, and is confident they will. The Kats committed 17.8 turnovers per game as season ago, and shot 34.4 percent from the field, including a lackluster 19.4 percent from 3-point range.
“I’m confident those things will change this year because the girls have put in a lot of time with their shooting and ball handling, and I think we’ll be able to see that as the season starts,” Snyder said. “It’s a lot more fun running plays when you hang on to the ball and knock down shots at the end of it.”