THE BATTERS BOX: Girls basketball spotlight

Tom Batters

Just a few minutes after I arrived at Eastside Centre to watch the Richwoods girls basketball team play a summer league game, I got a strange feeling that something was missing.

Imagine going to St. Louis, only to discover that the Arch was no longer there.

That’s how I felt.

Then it hit me.

Janise Dismuke, the All-State center/forward who led the Lady Knights in points, rebounds and “all-around team player points” (OK, I made up that stat), was not there.

The senior, who will play volleyball for the University of Illinois-Chicago in the fall, was such a big part of the Lady Knights’ run to the Super-Sectional last year. She was the one who always seemed to come up with a big shot or rebound.

After the game, I asked Richwoods coach John Gross is he missed Dismuke, and if it would be difficult to replace her.

“Not at all,” he said right away. “We might even be better without her.”

Sorry, coach, can you say that again?

“Janise was a great player. You hate to lose a player like that, but I like the players we have returning. I like the options we have,” he said. “Maddie (Nieukirk) will step right in where Janise left off. She is more physical and she runs the floor just as well.”

Nieukirk, a 5-10 senior who averaged five points and four rebounds per game as a junior, is equally as confident that Dismuke’s absence will not even enter her mind.

She said she is looking forward to playing a more versatile style of forward than Dismuke, who was a dominant post player.

“I like to play in the post, but I can shoot from outside, too,” she said. “I’ve been working a lot with Megan (McGann) on my shooting, and I think I can play both inside and outside.”

Gross said Nieukirk, along with a solid group of seniors including Danielle DesJardins, Amber Metzger Kelli Dunne, and Shyla Nott, plus junior Katie Murphy and sophomore Mariah Smith, give him plenty of reasons to feel good about the 2009 season.

The season is still months away, but Gross is already devising practices and game strategies in order to find out his team’s strengths and weaknesses.

“We’re running our fast break and our trap defense, and everybody has been working hard,” he said. “I like what I see, so far.”

Murphy, who averaged 12 points and eight rebounds a game last year as a sophomore, said the team is already showing that it can run up the floor with anybody.

“We’ll be a running team,” she said. “That’s a good thing, though. That’s how we play best. If we can run it up the floor, we’ll be able to beat a lot of teams.”

Murphy suffered a knee injury as a freshman and played all of last season with a knee brace.

She said the injury is getting better, but she still wears the brace.

“It feels fine, but the coaches noticed that I’m still favoring it,” she said.

Smith, who had an exceptional freshman season (10 points and six rebounds per game) was not at the summer game last week. She is attending the University of Tennessee summer basketball camp. She will also attend the University of Auburn camp this summer.