By Beau Wicker Pharos-Tribune
---- — Winamac’s girls basketball team has three starters back from last year’s squad that went 16-6.
Due to the success of Winamac’s football team, the Warriors girls basketball team will open play tonight against visiting Knox. Varsity tipoff is set for 8 p.m.
An injury to top scorer and rebounder Stephanie Shorter derailed the Warriors’ Midwest Conference and sectional title hopes a year ago.
Shorter is back for her senior season and the 5-foot-9 forward averaged 16.9 points and 6.6 rebounds a year ago.
Also back for the Warriors is starting point guard Bethany Brogdon, a senior who averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 assists a year ago.
Sophomore guard Ali Larkin (4.2 ppg) also started at times for the Warriors as a freshman.
The Warriors have a move-in from North Judson in 5-7 senior Taylor Brandt, who is the cousin of former Warrior standout Jordan Brandt who is now playing college ball at St. Xavier in Chicago.
“She’s a forward/guard,” Winamac coach Jeff Wagner said. “We’ll use her more at forward because we need help in that area. She’ll play quite a bit and help us out.”
Junior guard Michaela Ingram will have an expanded role on the varsity this year.
“She has been shooting pretty well in practice and shot well in our scrimmage. She and Shorter both had eight points in our scrimmage to lead us,” Wagner said.
Other varsity contributors look to be 5-7 junior MacKenzie Howard, 5-4 junior Stephanie Crist, 5-6 junior Hannah DeGroot and 6-0 junior Savanna Button.
“Savanna Button is a 6-footer who played well in the scrimmage. She had five rebounds and that’s what we need her to do,” Wagner said. “Her rebounding skills can help Shorter a bit and take pressure off her.
“We’ve got a core back. My biggest concern is rebounding. With the three players we’ve lost [Jessica Schramm, Whitney Hook, Brittany Ruff] we lost 12 rebounds a game and we need to make those up. We lost 20 points a game, but that’s not as big. I think we’ll be OK. We’ve got some shooters.”
Wagner said Brogdon is getting her shot back after playing volleyball this fall. He added Larkin, Ingram, Crist and DeGroot all have the ability to knock down jumpers at a good pace. He said Shorter will likely play more from the outside than she has in the past as well.
The Warriors finished runner-up to Frontier in the MWC standings a year ago and are looking to return to their familiar top spot.
The Warrriors are hosting a Class 2A sectional this year. It has a new format, as Rochester has moved to Class 3A and Rensselaer has moved back to Class 2A to rejoin the group. North Judson and North Newton remain in the field, and Delphi has been added in.
After tonight’s game against Knox the Warriors travel to Lewis Cass on Saturday night for a 7 p.m. varsity-only game.
The Kings have a new coach this year in Meranda Burnett, who won three state titles as a player at Tri-Central and went on to play at Gardner-Webb.
Burnett takes over a Kings program that is coming off a 4-17 season and hasn’t had a winning season since 2003.
The Kings do have a four-year starter back in 5-5 point guard Maci Maupin, who averaged 12 ppg a year ago. She along with departed seniors Maddie Eurit and Bre Robertson provided most of the offensive production last season.
Cass senior Kassi Zeck is back out for the basketball team this year. They have two juniors in Haley Johnson and 5-9 Carley Weaver. The Kings have two sophomores on the team in Ashton McClain and Bailey Gremelspacher, and two freshmen in Savannah Thompson and 5-10 Olivia Collins.
“Obviously our expecations are really high,” Burnett said. “We want to give 100 percent every day. That’s what we’re asking for is to give it your all and continue to set new standards and not get in a comfort zone.
“We’re throwing a whole new system at them and we want them to play basketball from the shoulders up. They’ve adjusted well and taken to waht we’re trying to implement. They need experience and that will come.”
The Kings travel to Rossville tonight to open the season.
The Kings don’t have a JV team ready yet with all required practices in and Burnett is hoping to have one ready by the end of next week.
“Our numbers are really down. It’s my first year and it can only go up from here,” she said. “The first year is rough. We have to make it work. Next year we’ll build on it and the next year we’ll build on it some more. We have to deal with issues one at a time.”
The Comets have five seniors back from last year’s team that went 13-10, their best season in 16 years.
Their leading returning scorers are point guard Marli Leazenby and forward Anna Brown, who both averaged 8 ppg a year ago. They also return post Mickayla Rans, the leading returning rebounder at 5.5 per contest. Also back is guard Tierney Rentschler, who looks to share some time at the point with Leazenby, and the versatile Katie Henry.
They also return junior Sarah Holt, who started last season and is one of the team’s top defenders. Junior Madison Taylor and sophomore Jaycee Denton will also see time at guard.
“Obviously we have a group for the most part that has been around our system for two or three years and have experience playing with each other. Hopefully it pays dividends,” Caston coach Carl Davis said.
The Comets do have to replace foreign exchage student Ingrid Martinez of Mexico. She led the team with 11 ppg and 7 rpg a year ago.
“We can’t replace her with any one person,” Davis said. “We have to have a lot of girls step up and fill roles she fulfilled for us last year.”
Two of the Comets’ 10 losses last year were to West Central, including in the sectional final. Davis said the Trojans also return a lot of players from a year ago.
The Comets host LaCrosse Friday and travel to North Miami Saturday to open the year.
The Panthers return four of their top players from a year ago, including leading scorer Mati DeWitt (8.9 ppg) and point guard Megan Smith for their senior campaigns. Kayte Miller and Brooklyn Mehrley also return as seniors.
“Megan Smith is as good of a defensive player I’ve coached. She has quick hands and does an amazing job every night,” Pioneer coach David McWherter said. “Mati is an all-around scorer. She’s a post player and gives us our best opportunity to score points.”
Players moving up to the varsity this year include Abby McKaig, Kennedy Nies and Monica Compton.
The Panthers have good height with Nies (6-0), DeWitt (5-10) and McKaig (5-10).
“We’re going to have to lean on Mati offensively and Megan defensively and have Kayte hit some outside shots,” McWherter said.
The Panthers will look to improve on their 5-16 record of a year ago. McWherter said the team plays a tough schedule which has a number of bigger schools on it and includes the addition of the Zionsville Holiday Tournament this year.
The Panthers host Delphi on Saturday to open the season.