Season preview: Girls’ basketball gets under way in Jefferson County

by Dennis Sharkey

Two new coaches join the ranks of the county high school girls’ basketball coaches for the second straight year.

It’s also the third straight year that the McLouth Lady Bulldogs will be led by a different coach.

Expectations are high for some teams, while others look to rebuild or are still trying to find an identity.

2009 girls basketball file photo

2009 girls basketball file photo

Practice began more than two weeks ago and most teams will tip off next Tuesday, Dec. 7, except for Jefferson County North and Perry-Lecompton. Those two squads will tip off Dec. 3.  JCN girls’ and boys’ teams will be at home versus Maur Hill/Mt. Academy while both Kaws teams head to Atchison County Community High School.

Only one county girls’ team made the trip to the state tournament and the Lady Chargers will look to make it three in a row when they take the court.

Jefferson County North
Coach: Steve Noll, sixth year
Last season: 23-3

The Lady Chargers will look to replace eight years of starting experience on the court this year.

Four-year starters Sara Navinskey and Mallory GrandPre had experience that will be hard to replace and that is why Noll thinks his team might not be quite as good to start the season. But he does have high expectations for his group.

“I would like to think we could get just as good or better than a year ago,” Noll said. “As the year goes on we will get better but we may not be as good as we were last year at the beginning of the year.”

The Lady Chargers still will have a lot of post-season experience on the floor in seniors Katie Noll and Anna Kern and leading scorer from last year junior Jordan Kramer. Noll also looks to senior Gage Funk to return after Christmas from an injury.

Kramer will again be looked to for scoring, but Noll points out that she also led the team in assists last season. Noll said when a team tried boxing in Kramer or any of the team’s other scorers last year, open shooters were found and delivered. Noll looks for more of the same as his unit gets more playing time together.

“We’ve got girls that can score,” Noll said. “On any given night I think any of them can step up and score for us.”

Noll said that Megan Domann and Emma Bassette will also see significant minutes as well as some underclassmen.

“There’s about three or four freshman and sophomores that could be in the mix,” Noll said.

The Lady Chargers get started Friday night at home versus Jefferson West.

Coach: Scott Whaley, first year
Last season: 14-8

Oskaloosa Head Football Coach Scott Whaley knows about winning on the field and he will try to translate that to the court in his first stint as the Lady Bears’ coach.

As stated before Whaley knows about winning, but he will have some tough shoes to fill because his predecessor LeeAnn Tufte set the bar high.

But the cupboard was not left bare and Whaley is thankful that he was left with an experienced and talented group.

“We’ve got some girls who have played and been good leaders,” Whaley said.

Whaley has some experience coaching basketball but he admits he will rely on assistant coach Stacia Pfau who has been with this team.

Two weeks into practice Whaley is impressed but said there are still a few questions that need to be answered before play begins.

“There’s always a little bit of things to work out because every year is a little different,” Whaley said.

The Lady Bears will replace two starters but bring back two important players. The Lady Bears will be led by senior Hailey Kelly at the point guard position and leading scorer from last year junior Haley Pfau.

Whaley said he also expects Rachel Schmanke and Jordan Miller to get significant minutes along with newcomer Lakin Thompson. Sophomore Nicole Kruse will also push for playing time. Senior Kristin Brey played significant time as a sophomore but did not play last season. Whaley said so far in practice it appears that Brey has worked hard and will also push to get into the starting line up.

The Lady Bears tip off next Tuesday night at home versus Valley Falls.

Jefferson West
Coach:  Steve Stallbaumer, second year
Last season: 15-7

Stallbaumer in his first year as head coach had the luxury of starting four seniors.

“That was a lot of our scoring,” Stallbaumer said. “We’re going to expect a lot of our girls to step up into those roles.”

Senior Monica Sanders is the only returning starter for the Lady Tigers at the guard position. Stallbaumer said he will look to several underclassmen to fill roles. Many of the girls Stallbaumer will be looking to got significant playing time at the varsity level last year.

Senior Tara Massey will play a significant roll along with another senior, Katie Ricklefs, who didn’t play last year as a junior. But Stallbaumer said a number of different players will be depended on throughout the season.

“I don’t think we’re going to have one girl in particular who is going to carry us,” Stallbaumer said. “It will be a group effort and we will have to play well as a team to be successful.”

Stallbaumer said size may be an issue so he will look for good guard play. Sophomore Erica Essman will be looked to for stability at the position. Junior Madison Mercer and sophomore Haley Siess could also significant playing time.

Stallbaumer also said to watch for first time player Taryn Brees to make an impact.

The Lady Tigers head out on the road to begin the season this Tuesday against Jefferson County North.

Coach:  Gina Durkes, first year
Last season: 14-8

After only one year at the head of the bench, Robert Good decided to retire leaving an opening at the head coach position for the second straight off season.

Durkes will be in her first year as a head coach but is familiar with this team serving as the assistant coach the last couple of years.

Durkes has never been a head coach, however, she could be entering her second year as the Lady Bulldog head coach. Durkes was offered the position last season but declined. When the position was offered this time she decided it was time to make the move up.

“I figured I should take it I guess,” Durkes said.

Durkes only has 12 players this year and only two seniors, Logan Terry and Jessie Troupe. The team is also replacing three seniors who all started last season and only brings back junior starter Terri Stewart.

Durkes will also turn to underclassmen Taylor Pope and freshman Kayla Steffey. Durkes said Steffey has played for her the last couple of years in middle school and expects a significant contribution from the freshman.

“I know her potential and she comes out and gives me 100 percent every day,” she said. “There’s going to be some younger ones coming up to play varsity this year.”

Durkes said practices have been hard and her girls will have to be conditioned in order to play the style she wants to play this year of tight defense and fast breaks.

“We need to get fast breaks and get a score as fast as we can and play defense,” Durkes said. “If we have to play offense we’re not going to have a very good chance.”

The Lady Bulldogs will start out on the road this Tuesday at the Marmaton Valley tournament.

Valley Falls
Coach:  Todd Gish, sixth year
Last season: 7-13

Gish will be looking for more consistency this year from the revolving door of starters he had last year.

Gish loses four seniors who played significant time last season but returns two seniors who have extensive experience in four-year starter Abbey Kearney and Morgan Streeter, who started some games as a freshman.

Kearney is the team’s returning leading scorer primarily playing shooting guard. However, Gish said his team’s size in the post is limited and Kearney may see some time there.

“That’s going to be an issue,” Gish said. “We’re going to have to be able to rebound.

“We’re going to have to be pretty patient offensively and we’re going to have to play smart,” Gish added.

Streeter will play point guard and has improved on her ability to drive to the basket. Gish also has experience when Streeter needs a spell and will use senior Jade Edmonds.

Gish said he is also looking to junior Macie Herrig to make an impact. Gish said she is already one of the team’s best perimeter shooters but has worked on driving to the basket.

“She’s been working a lot harder at practice this year and she’s trying to make a statement for herself,” Gish said.

Two sophomores will also make an impact for the Lady Dragons. Gish said Molly Tillery is probably his best defender and Ashley Miller may be his best post player.

Gish said those players will have to step up if his team is to reach a realistic goal of playing 500 ball. He said if the team can get double digit scoring from someone other than Kearney, they will be successful.

“If we can do that we can get to 500,” Gish said.

The Lady Dragons will tip off next Tuesday at Oskaloosa.

Coach:  Justin Mayer, third year
Last season: 11-11

Mayer has a lot to replace from last year’s Lady Kaws team including four starters.

The Lady Kaws lose five seniors overall and only return starter Abbey Bays who will play the point.

“That’s going to be tough to replace, Mayer said. “We’ve got a lot of youth at the post position now.”

Mayer has three seniors but one did not play as a junior.

Through two weeks of practice Mayer is still tinkering with his starting line up and trying to figure out who plays well with each other on the court.

“It’s going to take a little bit of time to figure out where my scoring is going to come from outside the point guard,” Mayer said. “I could see playing 12 different kids in our starting line up.”

Mayer used a summer league to get his players acclimated to some new defensive schemes and offensive systems.

Besides Bays, Mayer is looking to players like Taylor Akagi.

“She’s going to hustle,” Mayer said. “She’s going to skin up her knees and have all the bruises. She does everything.”

Senior Kerri Neil, who did not play as a junior but saw significant time as a sophomore, has improved her game according to Mayer and will be his best post presence. Freshman Madison Hess will also see time in the post.

Mayer will also look for some outside shooting from sophomore Megan Bolski.

The Lady Kaws open the season tomorrow (Friday) on the road at Atchison County Community High School.

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