Although Jennings County had its best girls basketball season in seven years last year, the Panthers may have to change how they operate this winter.
The Panthers, who went 16-6 and tied for second in the Hoosier Hills Conference, won’t have much size this season. As a result, the team will have to play at a faster tempo.
“We’re going to have to play a different style than we have in the past,” Jennings coach Carrie Manowitz said. “We’ll have more of a defensive focus. We do have a couple of pretty good on-the-ball defenders. It’s just going to be everybody stepping up and doing their part.”
The Panthers lost three seniors, including double-figure scorers Baylee Krueger and Halea Petro. Krueger, who led the team with 17.2 points and 5.8 rebounds a game, now plays at Indiana University-Southeast.
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“We had the luxury of having Baylee last year who could score inside and out,” Manowitz said. “We don’t have that go-to person yet.”
Two people who may try to fill that role are 5-foot-6 junior guard Sidney Gerkin and 5-8 senior guard Shelbi Wright. Gerkin averaged 10.0 points and 3.1 rebounds and led Jennings with 3.4 assists, while Wright added 6.4 points and 3.4 rebounds. They may be needed to play inside more this season.
Brooklyn Gaines, a 5-2 sophomore, averaged 9.0 points and 2.2 assists as a part-time starter. Marissa Biehle, a 5-6 senior (1.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg), and 5-6 junior Eliza Gasper (0.7 ppg, 1.0 rpg) saw some action last season.
Macy Roth, a 5-4 sophomore, and 5-7 sophomore Alexis Brown were primarily JV players. Manowitz calls Brown her best defender.
Second-year coach Matt Roberts may need a program, with nine of his 19 players being new to the program.
Two starters return from last year’s 9-17 squad: 5-11 junior Maddy Edds (5.0 ppg) and 5-5 senior Ellie Pool (4.6 ppg). Pool will move to point guard.
Ryanne Smith (4.0 ppg), a 5-2 junior, and 5-7 senior Jalynn Stanford (2.2 ppg) saw plenty of action last season.
Rachel Smith, a 5-5 senior, is playing basketball for first time since her freshman year. Ashley Pugh, a 5-2 senior, and 5-7 sophomore Kathleen McCann saw some varsity action, while 5-8 junior Jordan Weaver and 5-11 sophomore Savannah Lovins are up from the JV.
Roberts also has a couple of freshmen who might see playing time down the road.
“We’re a little different than in years past, when we’ve had a go-to player,” Roberts said. “We’ll be more balanced this year. We could have a different leading scorer, a top rebounder, a solid defender one night to the next.”
Roberts said he thinks his team can contend for Western Indiana Conference and sectional titles.
“I see both our conference and sectional as maybe not necessarily having any standout teams that are going to go out and dominate the competition,” Roberts said. “I think it’s going to be wide open.”
Kelly Fox, who led the Cougars to three sectional titles during her stint as head coach from 1993-2001, returns to lead the program.
South Decatur, which went 6-15 last year, will be a young team with no seniors.
“There is a lot of talent here and a lot of great kids,” Fox said. “We just have to find a way to mold that talent into one unit.”
A pair of 5-5 juniors, Brooke Helms (14.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.3 apg, 2.8 spg) and Stacy Fox (11.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.8 spg) — the coach’s daughter — have been starters since their freshman year. Helms is the point guard.
Brooke Owens (1.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg), a 5-9 sophomore, started some games while battling a shoulder injury. Mackenzie Kopplin, a 5-9 junior, is back after sitting out last season.
Battling for the other starting spot are 5-5 sophomore Katelyn Owens and 5-2 sophomore Taylor Best. Providing depth will be 5-11 junior Sierra Deppe and 5-8 freshman Madison Owens. Claire Wullenweber, a 5-5 sophomore just had her appendix removed and could return by Thanksgiving.
“There are some things we have to work on,” Kelly Fox said. “One is not turning the ball over. That’s been a point of emphasis every practice. This team is fast, but not quick, do defensively, we need to concentrate on getting back every single time.”
Four starters return for a Lancers team that went 5-19 last season.
“We had a good summer,” Edinburgh coach Amy Macy said. “We’re definitely building on last year, and we have a lot of confidence in what we can do.”
Mariah Weddle, a 6-0 senior, averaged 8.7 points and led the team with 9.4 rebounds. Bri Howard, a 5-7 junior (7.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and 5-4 senior Megan Rooks (2.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.0 apg) were full-time starters, while 5-10 junior Allie Schooler (9.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and 5-11 senior Kayli Littiken (5.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg) shared a spot.
Emma Westerfeld, a 5-6 senior, came back from a knee injury to play last season. Abi Scrogham, a 5-5 junior, and 5-5 sophomore Makenzie Hill, split time between varsity and JV.
“We have confidence,” Macy said. “We’ve taken our lumps the last two years with not having really any varsity experience. Now, these girls have two or three years varsity experience. We’re expecting bigger things this year.”
With all five starters back from a team that went 17-7 and tied with Jennings County for second in the HHC, the Owls might have the talent and experience to supplant Bedford North Lawrence atop the conference and sectional.
“I think on paper, we’re probably the front-runner,” Seymour coach Jason Longmeier said. “Bedford is still going to be good.”
The returning starters are 5-10 senior Emilee Pollmann (11.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 2.1 spg), 5-7 junior Kayla Griffin (9.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.0 spg), 6-0 senior Mikalya Fee (6.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg), 5-7 senior Morgan Ritz (9.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.1 spg) and 5-7 senior point guard Maci Loebker (10.3 ppr, 3.3 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.5 spg).
Lauren James, a 5-6 junior (4.0 ppg, 1.4 apg), is the backup point guard, and 5-6 senior Lindsey Hume (2.3 ppg) played a lot. Sarah Benefiel, a 5-6 junior, and 5-8 junior Katie Suits are up from the JV, and 6-0 freshman Makenna Fee could see action.
“We have to have some things come together, just like everybody else at this time of season,” Longmeier said. “But a lot of our kids are AAU kids and did a lot in the summer.”
The Cougars rebounded from a 2-7 start last season to finish a respectable 11-13. Three starters are back, led by 5-6 sophomore Maddie Roark, who led Trinity with 19.1 points, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals.
“She’s going to be our go-to player, and we have a couple other kids who can score,” Trinity coach Mike Lang said. “We’re going to be young, but we have a lot of youth that has experience.”
Piper Acton (4.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg), a 5-9 sophomore, and 5-6 junior point guard Whitney Rogers (3.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.5 spg) also return. Abby Hackman (2.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg), a 5-11 sophomore and 5-5 sophomore Jodi Goecker (2.4 ppg) were the first two players off the bench.
Anne Franke, a 5-11 senior center, and 5-10 senior Miranda Murphy saw some varsity action. Morgan Gabbard, a 5-8 sophomore, is up from the JV.
“Annie had an outstanding summer, and Miranda is a really good spot shooter,” Lang said. “They’re going to help us.”
Key dates in the 2015-16 girls basketball season:
Today: First games
Feb. 2, 5 and 6: Sectional
Feb. 13: Regional
Feb. 20: Semistate
Feb. 27: State finals