GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW

Tom Batters

Richwoods girls basketball coach John Gross said this year’s team had a better summer and preseason than his 2005 team, which is saying a lot considering that the 2005 team went undefeated and won a state championship.

“These players mesh so much, and they get a long very well. We have a lot of seniors who have played together for a long time. And, they are driven to reach the state tournament after the way last year ended,” he said.

Last year ended with a last-second loss to Freeport in the Super-Sectional, one win away from State.

Gross does not shy away from declaring his expectations for this year’s team, which only lost one starter from last year.

“This team is capable of winning a championship,” he said. “If we play our best and continue to get better, we can make it there. But, that’s a long way off. Right now, we just want to concentrate on getting better. Right now, I just want to think about our first game.”

Mariah Smith, an all-conference player who averaged 10 points per game as a freshman last year, returns along with a solid group of experienced seniors.

Senior captain Danielle DesJardins will handle most of the point guard responsibilities.

“DJ (DesJardins) is a natural leader. Everything we do starts with her,” Gross said. “Mariah will continue to take her game to a higher level, which is scary because she played at such a high level last year as a freshman.”

Smith, a 5’11” guard, can shoot from long range, but she is capable of driving and playing a physical game. She can also bring the ball up the floor and she is an excellent passer.

“She can do it all,” Gross said.

Junior Katie Murphy, who was second in scoring and rebounding last year, returns healthier after recovering from a knee injury.

“She didn’t have the knee brace all summer, so that’s encouraging,” Gross said. “I expect her to score more this year, and she does a great job rebounding.”

Senior Maddie Nieukirk, a forward who can play in the post or shoot from the outside, will replace Janise Dismuke (13 points and eight rebounds per game) at the forward spot.

“Janise was a great player, but Maddie actually gives us more options because she can shoot from 12 to 15 feet out,” Gross said.

Gross said he will use his trademark 1-3-1 trap defense again this year, but he will mix in some match-up zone and man-to-man defenses, too.

“When you have tall players like we have, the trap can be effective," he said. “We’ll mix things up, though.”

Seniors Amber Metzger and Shyla Nott will handle the off-guard position.

Seniors Kelli Dunne, Cryshawn Johnson, Chenille Johnson will play a lot off the bench. Junior

Sarah Murray provides good outside shooting off the bench.

“From top to bottom, we have players who can contribute,” Gross said.

Dunlap

Dunlap girls basketball coach Joe Wenskus will start five seniors, including All Conference forward Jenni Erlandson.

“Jenni is one of the most versatile players I’ve seen,” Wenskus said. “She is about six feet tall, but she has a great three-point shot. We can go inside with her, or we can let her shoot from the outside.”

Senior point guard Lauren Keegan is back after missing most of last year with an injury.

“She sets the table for us,” Wenskus said. “She runs the floor well, and she’s a good shooter.”

Senior Anna Kreuser, a 6’0” center, and seniors Jordan Schrader and Ally Redington complete the starting lineup.

“Anna is a really good inside player, but she can handle the ball well for a big player,” Wenskus said. “Ally is very versatile. We can play her on the wing, and she is a great rebounder. She’s our most physical player. Jordan has a good outside shot, but she can also drive to the basket.”

Wenskus, in his second year as the head coach, said practice is more productive this year since all the players know his system.

“The seniors all know what's going on,” he said. “We spend less time explaining things. We are more focused on getting things done and getting ready to compete.”

Wenskus said he would like for his team to “attack the basket” on offense and be more aggressive on defense.

“We want to get the ball off the break, run up the floor quickly, and look at our options to score every time,” he said.

Notre Dame

Former Dunlap coach Ron Carrothers takes over a Peoria Notre Dame girls basketball program that has struggled the past couple years, but the future is bright.

Junior Elle Bielfeldt and sophomore Kristin Itschner, all-conference players from last year, will lead this young team into what Carrothers calls “an exciting time” for Notre Dame girls basketball.

“I’m not going to predict a conference championship just yet, but I know we will be competitive,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of good things and we’re learning how to win.”

Itschner and Bielfeldt, both three-sport athletes, can do a lot of things on the basketball court, Carrothers said.

“Kristin sees the floor so well, and she anticipates things before they happen,” he said. “Elle makes things happen around the basket with her scoring and rebounding abilities.”

Carrothers said he is encouraged because his players have shown that they can run up the floor.

“We’ve shown that we can be a fast-break team, but we also have to be patient with it,” he said. “We don’t want to force the break if it’s not there.”

Carrothers said he will rotate 13 players in the lineup.

“We have a lot of interchangeable parts,” he said.

Seniors Amy Carlson, Megan Maroon, Lauren Purcell, and Lexie Kramer provide plenty of depth.

“The seniors have been great leaders,” he said. “They want to see Notre Dame basketball back at the top of the Mid-State 6 Conference, and they are working their butts off.”