SYRACUSE — The assault by KiLee Knafel on the Wawasee record books won’t put Shanna Zolman’s eye-popping numbers in jeopardy, but page turning will happen this winter.
The senior guard is already among the greatest scorers in Wawasee girl’s basketball history, sitting in third place all-time at 1,138 points. Just 153 points will have Knafel pass Jim Scarbeary’s 1,290 points as the boys leading scorer, and another 269 points will move Knafel ahead of assistant coach Rocky Goshert’s daughter, Taylor Goshert, for second all-time at Wawasee, boy or girl. But points totals are fun for fans and media types to get excited about, and Knafel has often deflected the attention to her teammates.
For Wawasee to be successful this season, however, Knafel will have to score in bunches and her teammates will need to absorb a lot of the attention Knafel will surely draw from opposing defenses.
“I’ve challenged our girls,” said Wawasee head coach Kem Zolman. “From the beginning, other teams are not going to respect you, they may not even guard you at times paying attention to where KiLee is on the floor. That is a great opportunity to step up and nail some shots. That will take pressure off (KiLee). That will likely be what we see the first half of the season. If our kids don’t take advantage of that, we may be easy prey.”
Knafel does return having averaged over 25 points per contest and was the leading rebounder at over nine per game, second in assists and added over 40 steals in an all-around effort that will likely garner some All-State recognition if she continues her pace this year. How Wawasee manifests those offerings could determine its overall team direction.
“This year actually started in the summer,” Zolman said of the tournaments and offseason work put in by the kids. “Last year, we don’t even bring it up. When you go through a year like we had, you don’t know how it affects the kids. How embarrassed they actually were, how humiliated they were at times, and they wanted to do something about it. When you combine those kids who went through that with the freshmen coming in that had no idea what it was like, you just look at how they will gel this year.”
An overachieving program two seasons ago had Wawasee start 10-2 en route to a sectional title with a roster that no one figured was built for championships. A similarly constructed roster last year went the other direction, losing 13 of its last 15 ballgames to conclude a 6-16 campaign.
Can the Lady Warriors reverse its fortunes with a roster short on size and long on potential?
“Our job as coaches is to get the freshmen and the sophomores to work with the juniors and seniors,” Zolman said. “Can they all gel and understand what they are doing when the varsity lights are on them. Can our seniors take command and keep this thing going. Those are all things we will be watching as coaches, which is what some of these early games will tell us.”
Along with Knafel are seniors Cassie Martinez and Lexy Blunk, both quick guards heading into their third year of varsity service. Blunk was second on the team in assists last season while Martinez spent her time behind the three-point arc, hoisting over 70 threes. Joining the seniors along the perimeter is sophomore guard Elizabeth Jackson, who played in all 22 games last year as a freshman.
The varsity experience, however, falls off from there. Junior Ashlynn Fisher is the only other member of the current roster with any showtime, coming off the varsity bench in 14 games before a concussion curbed her season. Junior Megan Grindle and sophomores Courtney Linnemeier and Natalie Jones all were JV last season, Grindle’s season cut short by a knee injury.
The Lady Warriors will need contributions from several freshmen, a few which will be thrust into duty immediately in Addison Ayres, Katlyn Kennedy, Kylee Rostochak and Erin Wiktorowski. Traditionally, Wawasee have been blessed with at least one player over six feet, but Ayres and Kennedy are listed as the tallest at just 5’11”. With that kind of build, Wawasee will need to figure a way to utilize its lack of size with some kind of potency from the floor.
“We are going to be dealing a lot with youth that have to cover players that are six foot, six one,” Zolman said. “We have a freshman at 5’11”, but she hasn’t dealt with varsity basketball before. So our guards will have to raise their intensity on the perimeter and force other team’s hands.”
Wawasee opens its campaign Friday night with a trip to Emma and a date against Westview. The North East Corner Conference theme will maintain with visit to Lagrange and Lakeland next Tuesday and the home opener next Saturday against Fairfield. Wawasee kicks off its conference slate on Dec. 7 when it hosts Goshen.