SOUTH WHITLEY – The Whitko girls basketball team is out to show that its success in 2013 was far from a fluke but rather the first sign of great things to come.
The Wildcats ended a streak of five-consecutive losing seasons last year by finishing with a 16-7 mark and an appearance in the sectional title game. Expectations have only grown coming into 2014 as the season returns a majority of its roster including two very talented underclassmen.
Whitko graduated talented playmakers Kelly Reiff and Jordan Hall but will be led on the court this season by sophomores Brianna Cumberland and Aly Reiff. Reiff started all 23 games for the Wildcats last season and was the top scoring threat for the team.while Cumberland started in 15 but saw playing time in all 23. As freshmen the two combined to average nearly 26 points per game for the Whitko offense.
Having those two pieces return in addition to other important players, the expectations are higher than normal in South Whitley, but that does not mean that expectations are specific for head coach Brandon Bradley and his girls.
“We don’t like to quantify what our expectations are,” began Bradley, now in his fourth year at Whitko. “We don’t want to aim for a set number of wins or anything. The goal has always been to put more numbers on our banner out there. There is just one conference title on that banner. Zero tournament titles.
“Our goal is to win the Three Rivers Conference and win the sectional, but we try to be cautious when talking about the sectional. When we win a sectional, whether it’s this year, next year, whenever, we don’t want to be limited to just that. I don’t want the girls to feel like we are limited to just winning a sectional and falling flat in the regional. I’ve seen that happen with other teams in the past.”
Bradley has built up a lot of excitement around his program the past few seasons. A noticeable change in the energy surrounding the girls team the past two seasons had led to bigger turn out for camps and a positive attitude at practices and on that court. The team is still very young and looking to make improvements in a lot of areas, but the goal of establishing a successful program is clearly underway.
“Ideally, it’s cliche, but we’re trying to win a state title,” Bradley stated.
The coach would continue on to say that the team has a long way to go, but all signs continue to point up for the Wildcats.
“The message has always been that we want to be tough and gritty and that we want to compete,” Bradley said. “Each year we’ve improved by being tougher and competing better.”
Bradley’s squad finished 5-2 in the TRC last season, the program’s best mark since winning the TRC in 2008. Whitko will have to play four of its conference contests on the road this season. that could present a problem as the Wildcats only won three road games last season but were an impressive 8-1 at home.
Whitko has the distinction of being the smallest team in its 3A sectional but that didn’t bother the girls last year as they downed West Noble and Lakeland in the sectional before falling to host NorthWood. The Wildcats were 6-4 against class 3A teams last season, 1-2 against 4A squads and a combined 9-1 against 1A and 2A teams. Whitko has added potential sectional opponents Fairfield and Lakeland to its schedule this season to better prepare itself for the tournament being held at Wawasee High School in February.
Whito will start its season at home Tuesday night when it welcomes in Central Noble for a 7:45 p.m. varsity tip.