Southsider Voice correspondent
Smaller, quicker and better – that’s the collective outlook for 10 Southside teams this season.
Many rangy players have graduated – 6-2 Cassie Baird of Perry Meridian, 6-1 Casey Koons of Lutheran, 6-1 Elizabeth Bowers and 6-0 Sam Bolen of Roncalli and 6-0 Molly Bridges and 6-0 Bailey Brothers of Southport.
Center Grove returns with four starters and newcomers from strong junior varsity and freshmen teams to challenge for Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference and state championships.
Roncalli has a bona fide all-star in junior Lindsey Corsaro, who averaged a double-double last year for Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame coach Stan Benge and so does Greenwood in 5-4 sparkplug Holly Hoopingarner, Johnson County’s Player of the Year for 2013-14. Junior All-Star 5-10 Kennedy Archer returns to lead Franklin Central. Southport’s 5-8 guard Shayla Wright can light it up from outside the perimeter.
Freshmen Cameron Cardenas at Beech Grove and Leah Moore at Greenwood are expected to be high impact players.
Three area teams are among the state’s top 20 in the first weekly poll of the Girls Indiana Basketball Coaches Association: Roncalli, No. 7; Center Grove, No. 9; and Franklin Central, No. 16
Here’s the team-by-team outlook with last year’s records and statistics:
BEECH GROVE (6-13, 3A) – Several returning Hornets took part in summer team camps at Indiana University and at the University of Notre Dame, where they had a group photo taken in front of the inspirational “Touchdown Jesus” that overlooks the football stadium.
Second-year coach Mark Parker sees an inspired and experienced squad capable of Beech Grove’s first winning season since 2010. The program has seen five coaches go 77-137 (.359) since Beech Grove won the 3A state championship in 2003.
Returning starters Bre Hurt (5.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals per game) and Makenzie Marshke (4.9 ppg), who hit 33.3 percent of her 3-point shots, give Parker plenty to work with.
Returning letter-winners Sydney Bonds, Olivia Woodall and Jessica Benamon will receive help from Kristian Folks and Olivia Pich.
They will have to make up for the absence of 21.5 ppg and 17.1 rpg from graduates Kayla Kaiser, Taylor Peavey and Shannon Newerth and senior Lizzie Giller, who is playing club volleyball.
“We’re small, quick, smart and athletic, and I like the camaraderie of the team,” Parker said. “We will start four guards and a forward. We’ll do what we have to do on defense – full-court and half-court presses – whatever we have to do to get turnovers. We want to push the ball up the floor.”
Freshman Cameron Cardenas is expected to crack the starting lineup and give the Hornets a court presence not seen since 2003. Classmate Katie Giller adds some height and outside shooting.
CENTER GROVE (16-4, 4A) – Coach Shawn Sanders returns with four starters and varsity newcomers from a 17-2 JV team and a 13-1 freshman squad.
Sanders, in his sixth year, sees a team that has solid defense, rebounding, ball handling, scoring and leadership.
“We will be looking to see if we have the toughness to be the top team in the state,” he said. “This is a season full of promise. We are still trying to figure out exactly who we are and who we want to be.”
The lofty goal of being No. 1 is there for four returning starters – senior front-liners 5-10 Brianna Gliesmann (9.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg), 6-1 Regan Wentland (8.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and 6-2 Ali Line (5.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and junior point guard Lauren Rau (7.6 ppg, 3.4 assists per game).
Reserve strength comes from senior guard Jess Norris (3.1 ppg), sophomores Allison Utterback and Roncalli transfer Emma LeMasters plus freshman guard Cassidy Hardin.
The Trojans play in the elite MIC and also face non-league foes Bedford North Lawrence, Roncalli and Fishers and go to the City Securities Hall of Fame Classic on Dec. 26 in New Castle.
Sanders’ teams won 31 games in the last two seasons but were edged by upstart Franklin Central each year in the sectional title matchup. The Trojans’ last sectional crown was worn in 2011.
FRANKLIN CENTRAL (17-5, 4A) – When last season ended, the Flashes claimed their second consecutive sectional title with one senior, one junior, four sophomores and seven freshmen.
“We’re not nearly as deep now as we thought we would be when we ended the season,” said fourth-year coach Brian Hacker. “We will take some lumps early so we’ll be well-tested by sectional time. We hope to go on a higher octane tempo and hopefully avoid some mismatches on height.”
The loss of Abbey Titzer, who graduated after averaging 9.3 points and 7.8 rebounds, and sister Rachel Titzer, who transferred to Roncalli, plus injuries to four players leave the Flashes in a mode to regroup.
Sydney Huffman (ACL tear) and sister Ashlyn Huffman (knee surgery) are recovering from injuries, as is Haley Sobieralski (dislocated knee).
Kennedy Archer (Coastal Carolina recruit) is the lone returning senior after leading last year’s team in scoring. Senior Kelsey Keesee missed last season with a broken ankle.
Sophomore returnees include 5-4 Keyla Hines, 5-6 Lindsey Owens, 5-4 Ashley Hebauf and 5-10 Madison Munger; 5-8 Sam Scott and Sydney Huffman (6.6 ppg) are the only juniors.
The Flashes do not expect to be at full strength for possibly two months. “I hope we are through with injuries,” Hacker said. “It will be survival for a while, but we have a good corps of players who will see us through the early part of the season. The whole idea is to peak at the end.”
The Flashes tough schedule includes Bedford North Lawrence, North Central, Westfield and rugged Conference Indiana teams.
GREENWOOD (10-12, 4A) – The Woodmen return with dynamo Holly Hoopingarner, who averaged 18.3 points and 3.2 assists and shot a remarkable 53.6 percent from 3-point range.
“She’s our floor leader,” said 12-year coach Debbie Guckenberger. “She gets a lot of attention from all the teams we play. We will have to rely on some of our players to take the pressure from her. We would like to lessen her ball handling so she can come of more screens and score.” Hoopingarner is one of seven returning letter-winners.
The Woodmen graduated Brittany Gray (8.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and her inside game and Sarah McLeod (8.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg). The Woodmen feature 5-11 seniors Rachel Cox and Madeline Wolf; juniors Megan Overton (2.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg), 5-2 Maddy Renfro (3.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg), 5-6 transfer Brooke Uebersetzig, 5-6 Kennedy Raines, 5-5 Cassidy Branagan; 5-6 sophomore Ryan Bauer; and 5-9 freshman Leah Moore.
Looking at starters Overton and Renfro, Guckenberger observed, “Megan is our garbage player; she works well around the basket and usually guards the other team’s best player. Maddy finishes well around the basket and also brings an outside shooting factor to the game. We pounded it into the post last year, but we are going to have to change things up, change our style of play.”
GREENWOOD CHRISTIAN ACADEMY (1-20, 1A) – Look for a big improvement by the Cougars this season.
GCA returns with most of last year’s lineup intact: 5-8 senior Kate Harris and juniors in Brianna Lawrence, guards Hannah Peters and Lauren Fisher and forwards Isabella Robey and Maddie Hogan.
Coach Al Weems also has transfers 5-10 Sydney Buis (home school) and Katy Cruse (Center Grove), who will start, plus freshmen Grace Apgar and Grace Peters.
“I really like what I see,” Weems said. “They are much better; they are cutting better, and they are anticipating more than ever. This team is smart (3.8 grade point averaage), and they are picking up everything that we want them to do.”
The Cougars should snap their 18-game losing streak early. GCA defeated Metropolitan by two points for its only win last year.
Leading scorer Peters and Lawrence return to their more natural spots on the perimeter instead of underneath.
“I was really proud of last year’s team,” Weems said. “We were 1-20, but they never gave up; they didn’t give in to the temptation of accepting losing. Hanna and Brianna were prime examples of that. ”
LUTHERAN (11-10, 1A) – The Saints are coming off their first winning season in four years after reaching the Morristown Sectional championship game.
Ninth-year coach Joe Morgan returns with seniors in 5-9 center Emily Hopkins (6.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg), 5-8 forward Katherine Krupski and 5-4 Morgan Keefer. The trio will likely be joined by junior Emily Weeden and sophomore Emily Kueher in the starting lineup.
Depth comes from returnees Alaina Jacobs, Ashian Neeb, Maria Uhrig plus a promising group of freshmen.
The Saints must replace a combined 21.3 ppg and 12.8 rpg from graduated Casey Koons, Kate Caston and Alaura Meister.
“We’re looking at racing up and down the floor,” said Morgan, a former sprint car owner. “We’ll try to be up-tempo, score quickly and put a lot of defensive pressure on the floor with trapping and a man-to-man defense. We won’t be the tallest team around, but we should be very quick and speedy.”
Morgan and his staff said they have been impressed with the Saints’ senior leadership. The coaching staff has urged the younger players to work hard, lift weights and to be ready for the season.
MANUAL (9-12, 2A) – The Redskins, more than anything, have adopted a winning attitude by being victorious in five of their last eight games last season. Improvement also came at both ends of the court.
The Redskins gave up 50 or more points 16 times under a different coach two years ago and only eight times under new coach Katie Fisher last season. On offense, Manual scored a high game of 41 points two years ago and topped that total nine times last year.
Fisher has several players back with varsity experience: seniors Tiana Harris (10.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg), Maria Juan (4.9 ppg, 1.2 rpg) and Halee Benefiel (3.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg), juniors Macey Debolt and Shelby Staggs-Marion plus sophomores Arisa Kunkler (2.8 ppg), Zaynah Jordan (2.3 ppg) and Lexi Banning (2.2 ppg).
“Our numbers have doubled, so we’re going in the right direction,” assistant coach Deanna Hatfield said. “Last year was difficult because the girls had never been pushed to the extreme they were pushed. The girls who stuck it out finally saw the benefit of what hard work can do individually and as a team.”
The Redskins snapped a 24-game losing streak last season by defeating Metropolitan.
“We hope to be more successful this year,” Hatfield said. “We have a lot of quick athletes, but we have some who are still learning how to make layups, dribble and make the right pass. We have a much better chance of matching up with teams this year.”
Fisher, who recently gave birth to a baby, will rejoin the team in early December. Hatfield and assistant Steve Dewey, Fisher’s father, have handled the coaching chores in the meantime.
PERRY MERIDIAN (11-11, 4A) – Coach Mike Armstrong fields a team with no seniors for only the third time in his 29 years at Perry, but he is not deterred in his optimism for the season.
“We were seniors-sophomores last year,” he said. “A lot of these players have lots of AAU experience, so we’re optimistic. We’re not very fast, but we have some quickness and good shooters.”
The Falcons will need to compensate for the loss of 5-5 senior point guard Amanda Annee, who is missing her second straight year due to an ACL tear during soccer. They also have to make up for more than 25 ppg and 17 rpg from the loss of six graduates, including Baird and 5-10 Morgan Landis.
Armstrong has four returning players with varsity experience: junior starters Elizabeth McIntyre (6.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg) and D’Anjrea Allen (4.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg) and junior returnees Daiva Wilson and Savannah Marquez. Junior guard/forward Brianna Adams, sophomore guard Brandi Martin and freshman Sadie Hill are strong candidates for starting spots.
The roster also includes newcomers Jessie Spencer, Destinee Miles, Emily Bolyard, Alexis Hill, Ellie Guenther and Cameron Reed.
“Our juniors won the freshman county tourney two years ago, and that tells us we have a good group to work with,” Armstrong said. “We will have some growing pains with our youth, but we can be a good team this year and a very good team a year from now.”
RONCALLI (19-5, 4A) – Coach Stan Benge has his first year of coaching at Roncalli in the books.
Benge, who succeeded April McDivitt-Schilling, posted the Rebels’ eighth consecutive winning campaign. Before his first season at Roncalli, he admitted that the transition for players would not be easy.
“It was tough because I didn’t know the players,” said Benge, who guided Ben Davis to four 4A state championships. “We have a bit of a nucleus, but the players have changed and so have the roles. We have to see how everyone fits in.”
The Rebels return with one of Indiana’s top players in Corsaro, a lengthy 6-1 guard who averaged 19.4 points and 10.7 rebounds. As she matures as a prime-time player, her role of becoming a total team leader takes on an added importance, according to Benge.
“She is beginning to do that,” the coach said. “She’s going to be good, but she is going to make everyone on the floor better. I’ve been blessed to coach a lot of talented players, and she has as much talent as anyone I have coached.”
Corsaro, co-captian, is one of only five returning players from last year’s squad that featured Elizabeth Bowers (Butler), Danielle Babb, Sam Bolen plus Kellie Kirkhoff (Marian). They leave as the Rebels’ winningest class in history with 79 wins in four years. Sophomore guard Emma LeMasters transferred to Center Grove.
Returning with Corsaro are 5-8 senior co-captain Halle Harris, juniors Katie Carson and Kristen Reece plus 5-9 sophomore Paige Saylor.
Key newcomers, Rachel Titzer, a 5-10 junior transfer from Franklin Central, and classmate Dayja Ely and freshman Lauren Kay, will be counted upon early to help the Rebels jell.
“We’re not going to be as big, but hopefully we are quick,” Benge said. “We are going to have to be able to react defensively and do more things on that end of the court.”
Roncalli’s schedule is among the most rugged in the state with Bedford North Lawrence, Lawrence North, Pike and Heritage Christian among others.
SOUTHPORT (5-16, 4A) – After enduring seven consecutive losing seasons, the Cardinals hope to put a rejuvenated team on the floor under first-year coach Matt Seifers. The Cardinals are 44-101 since their last winning season (11-9) in 2007. Seifers, an Indiana Elite AAU Basketball director, was an assistant coach at Bloomington South with current Southport boys coach Kyle Simpson.
“We really believe we are deep,” said an upbeat Seifers. “We have 10 weapons at the varsity level; 10 girls who can really play. We have a pretty aggressive team. We want to create a team that is defense first – a team that is absolutely able to stop people.”
He has full confidence in the Cardinals’ scoring ability even with the loss of graduated Molly Bridges, Madison Kendall and Bailey Brothers, who combined for 22.2 ppg and 13.4 rpg. That assurance begins with 5-8 senior guard Shayla Wright (14.9 ppg and 28 percent of offense) and returning backcourt starter Emma DeHart (4.3 ppg). Seifers wants Wright to vary her role by shooting less but scoring more and moving the basketball.
The Cardinals have plenty of competition for spots with senior forwards Lily Freese (5.1 ppg) and Kyle McQueen, senior guard Alexa Walker (2.6 ppg) and juniors Alex Cooper (2.6 ppg), Desiree Kinney, Brooke Lightfoot and Alyssa Andreis and sophomore Jaelencia Williams.
“The problem I have is that I can’t play all 10 girls at the same time,” the coach said. “I truly believe that we have more talent on this team than 95 percent of the teams in Indiana, but we play 13 of the top 20 teams this season. Every night we’re going up against some unbelievable teams, and that is going to be a challenge.”