Western’s girls basketball team is looking to take a big step forward in the Hoosier Conference and also in Class 3A Sectional 22.
The Panthers have been non-factors in both in recent years. They are 2-18 in division games since joining the Hoosier Conference for the 2015-16 school year and they are 1-6 in sectional games since winning the 2014 Class 3A state championship.
“We’re setting the goals high,” second-year coach Lisa Pflueger said. “We haven’t made a lot of noise obviously since ‘14. It’s been a complete rebuild in the last six years. Personally, I want us to be in the top in our conference and I want us to compete in the sectional. That’s saying a lot when you look at who’s in our conference and who’s in our sectional.”
The HC’s East Division is highlighted by Northwestern, Tipton and Hamilton Heights. Sectional 22 is led by Benton Central and West Lafayette.
“Last year, I thought we could win one game [in the sectional] and we fell short on that,” Pflueger said. “This year, I want us to make some noise.”
The Panthers are positioned to make some gains. After winning just 12 games total over the four seasons following their state championship season, they went 11-12 in 2018-19 and 9-14 last season, and they return a solid group of players led by KT All-Area third-team player Haley Scott.
“We have a great balance of seniors and juniors who have played a lot of basketball. We have quite a bit of depth,” Pflueger said.
“At this point, I think we’re still growing [in Pflueger’s system]. I want to be grateful of what we have and how hard the kids are working and take one game at a time and just see how we’re doing compared to how we did the first year.”
Scott is a 6-foot senior forward. She averaged 10.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots per game last season. The other seniors are 5-7 forward Sadie Harding (5.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and 5-4 guard Izzy Johnson.
The juniors are 5-8 forward Ella Biggs (7.2 ppg, team-high 44 assists), 5-5 guard Karson Lechner (4.1 ppg), 5-6 guard Audrey Rassel (3.2 ppg), 5-8 forward Sami Devlin and 5-7 forward Michaela Stewart.
Caroline Long, a 5-11 sophomore forward, also is back. She averaged 5.7 ppg and 5.8 rpg in a solid freshman campaign. Her twin sister, Lily, will miss the season following knee surgery.
Pflueger is adding a nice freshman class to the mix.
Scott and Caroline Long form a strong post presence and Harding, Lechner, Johnson, Rassel and Biggs lead the perimeter options.
Pfluger is hoping to push the pace.
“I think everybody wants to play fast. That’s still our hope. That was the hope last year and we weren’t able to always do that, but this year we’re really hoping to get up and down a little more,” she said.
Of course, any hope of playing in transition starts with defensive stops, and Pflueger is looking for the Panthers to build on the defensive improvement they made over the course of last season.
“Our defensive intensity has been a huge improvement,” Pflueger said. “We’re focusing a lot on that — intensity is probably the key word on the defensive side that we’re focusing on.”
Pflueger senses the program is back on solid footing.
“We’ve done a lot of work in the last 15 months of trying to develop our kids from the young age on up. I’m excited about the progress,” she said. “I think our high school kids are seeing that we’re a little serious about basketball. The culture is changing a bit.”
Western’s schedule already has seen some COVID-related postponements. The Panthers have picked up Noblesville as their new opener. That game is Friday at Noblesville. Western follows with a visit to Lafayette Central Catholic on Saturday.