SYRACUSE – The puns and innuendos are there for the taking, but the reality of the situation is Wawasee’s girls basketball team will have to learn to be bigger than they are.
Without a true post, or even a natural forward, what second-year head coach Matt Carpenter is referring to as a ‘team of guards’ will present a unique approach to the norm.
“Rebounding and defending the paint is going to be a challenge for us,” Carpenter said. “What we do have are girls who work really hard and are very competitive. They play very physical and that will help us dramatically.”
Returning are three seniors who all bring different skill sets, but a similar athleticism and will to excel. Aubrey Kuhn returns as the team’s most natural point guard, using a strong second half of the season to produce an All-Northern Lakes Conference nod. Kuhn led the 2017 team in assists per game (2.5) and steals (2.0) to go with 6.5 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.
Hannah-Marie Lamle may be the closest thing to a natural rebounder coming back, pulling down 3.9 per game as a junior, and can jump out of the gym with the acumen of a regional level long jumper. Kabrea Rostochak also pulls down about three boards per night, but with the graduation of six-foot Aubrey Schmeltz from the middle, physical play could be a hit or miss proposition.
Junior Casey Schroeder had two of her best games against two of the better teams on the schedule last winter. Gathering 15 points and seven rebounds against Norwell, Schroeder took that step into varsity expectation, then dropped 15 points on then No. 1 Whitko in Wawasee’s biggest upset in over a decade.
Classmates Caitlin Wortinger, Kenzie Smith and Morgan Adkins all will see major minutes, and sophomore Hannah Lancaster and freshman Danielle Jenkins will also see time on the varsity court.
“We’ve got our three seniors who have been pretty good for us, and have been through the wars before,” Carpenter said. “Part of us playing three or four of the juniors on the JV (last year) was in preparation for this and what they will have to deal with this year. Getting them court time was key for them, even just playing JV and seeing time this summer.
“It’s never as smooth as you want, we won’t open up running on all cylinders. I just had them all on the court together for just the second time (Thursday, Oct. 26), and that’s just the challenge you face as a girls basketball coach with the cross country, volleyball and soccer seasons ending when they do. That’s just how it is.”
Wawasee finished its 2016-17 season 10-13 overall and ended up 4-3 in the NLC, the first winning conference record in six seasons. A brutal stretch to end the season saw the Lady Warriors play five games in 10 days – three of those against state-ranked teams – which led a weary Wawasee team into a sectional loss against NorthWood. Carpenter sees that experience as a teaching point in pacing for his club, which opens at home against a very good Mishawaka Marian squad on Nov. 2, the start of four games in nine days to begin the calendar.
“Most years, it takes coaches a lot of time to get comfortable, and it will take me a little time given what we have,” Carpenter said. “Mishawaka Marian is going to challenge us right away. They are very, very good. We are conditioning hard right now to get into better shape so when we have stretches like we do to start, or how we ended last year, we can be better prepared to play to our expected level.”