SYRACUSE — The early part of the 2018-19 season is going to be a learning experience for Wawasee girls basketball.
Not only will there be a learning curve for players on an overwhelmingly young roster that features just two seniors in returning letterwinners Casey Schroeder and Caitlin Wortinger, but it’s also going to be a feeling-out process for the Lady Warriors’ coaching staff. Fortunately, that’s nothing new for third-year boss Matt Carpenter and his crew.
“I know it sounds kind of weird, and it’s probably cliche that every year starts over, but I’m going to have to adjust as a coach and our coaching staff is going to have to adjust to this team,” he said. “Each year we’ve slightly adjusted to our personnel. Last year we came off where we lost five seniors… We lost a lot then, and we were able to adjust. This year we’re going to need leadership from the girls because we’ve lost a lot of four-year letterwinners over the last two years, and we’re going to need a team that’s willing to work extremely hard. I don’t think things are going to come easy for us.
“They’re going to have to be willing to adjust as the season progresses until we find what we’re best at.”
However the particulars begin to emerge, the Warriors should be strong in the backcourt this season.
Schroeder is coming off a junior season in which she led the team in scoring with nearly 12 points an outing and was one of its assist leaders behind 2018 graduates Aubrey Kuhn and Kabrea Rostochak. She sustained an ACL tear in the spring and will likely sit out the early part of the schedule, but fellow returning guards Hannah Lancaster, a junior, and Danielle Jenkins, a sophomore, both give the team solid guard play, as do freshman Jada Carter and junior Rhian Galloway. And with so much depth in the backcourt, Wawasee should be able to spread the floor on opponents as well as to position different players at the point to take advantage of different match-ups on a given night.
“We have a plethora of girls that can handle the ball, so that’s not going to be a problem. Danielle Jenkins can handle the point for us. She’s one that swung back and forth, handled the point for the JV but then also came and played a lot of varsity down the stretch. Hannah Lancaster can run the point. We have an incoming freshman, Jada Carter, she can run the point for us we feel like, and Casey Schroeder, she can the point for us and we can move her around,” said Carpenter.
“At the guard position we feel fairly confident. You can always get better handling the ball. You can always get better making good decisions and running a team, but we do feel like we’ve got three or four girls that can all do it, and what you might see from us is you might see a variety of people run it throughout the game. If we get up and start running, it’s going to be whoever gets the ball, let’s go. So we’re not hinging or dependent on one guard this year.”
A much bigger question mark is on the interior. Apart from incoming sophomore Madison Mottern, who is listed at 5’10”, this year’s squad doesn’t boast a whole lot of size. The team will have to rely on the mostly-untested Mottern to plug up the paint along with the undersized but tough Wortinger, but it’s going to take a team effort on the boards, and the Warriors will need to use on some of their strengths to offset any weaknesses on the inside.
“We feel like if we’re disciplined and we play good defense the way we’re capable of doing, it will minimize the damage. Now, we’re still going to have to contend with can we rebound and what happens when we run into teams that have some bigs inside, so we’re going to have to try some different things,” explained Carpenter.
“We know that’s going to be a challenge, but at the same time hopefully we can change the pace or be able to combat that with some of our match-up difficulties from another point of view.”
Carpenter is reminding himself to stay patient with his team at the front end of the season, which begins with an always-tough Mishawaka Marian squad on the road Thursday night, a game that he says could be a wake-up call for his team. But as always, Wawasee’s goals lie at the back end of the season, and they’re looking for the kind of day-to-day development that lends itself to late runs like last season’s, when the Warriors won five of their last seven games.
“As a coaching staff, we know that we’ve lost a lot of leadership. a lot of veterans over the last two years, so we know that we’re going to have to be more patient. For me, one of my goals is to be patient. To stay on them, to keep them improving but to be patient when things don’t happen right away with a new group like this,” said Carpenter.
“We’d like to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year, and I felt like the last two years we’ve done that and were playing our best basketball in January against probably our hardest part of the schedule. We were able to make a run last year in sectional because of our daily improvement.”