After 37 victories over the last two seasons, Bellmont coach Andy Heim’s expectations have changed for his program.
“We no longer have to teach the proper leg to go up with on layups,” said Heim, only half joking. “Everyone comes in knowing the drills I like to run and what I expect.”
While the Braves fell short of their second-straight Northeast 8 championship last year, the team did win 19 games, just the second time in the last decade that the program has finished with double-digit victories.
The goal now is to take that next step, which includes finding a way to win a highly-competitive Sectional 23 that includes Bishop Luers, Marion and Norwell.
That quest starts with senior Grace Hunter. The Northern Illinois commit is back after averaging 16.4 points per game as a junior.
“Every year when we step on the floor with Grace, we expect her to be a good leader and commit to those hustle plays,” Heim said. “Everyone in the area has seen how hard she plays.”
Hunter has added about an inch to her stature, now standing at close to 5-foot-11. She has also improved her ability to finish under the basket. While not a traditional post, she has the stature and the skill to play in the paint when needed.
Hunter will have help in the form of a pair of juniors – Megan Busick and Kenzie McMahon. Busick averaged 10.7 points last season while McMahon averaged 8.1 points and 5.1 rebounds. The duo’s development is expected to help replace the loss of Emily Fuelling (9.7 ppg) to graduation.
“Megan and Kenzie were both all-conference selections and two of our leading scorers,” Heim said.
Fellow junior Emma Keane is expected to have a larger role in the offense after appearing in 15 games as a sophomore.
Senior Carrie Scott will also be looked upon to shoulder some of the scoring load.
Overall, Heim expects to have a smarter team this year. In winning 19 games last season, Bellmont relied much on its defense and the exceptional scoring capabilities of Hunter. The hope is that this team will be more balanced and take some of the pressure off their D1 commit.
“At times we were a little too focused around Grace,” Heim said. “We are hoping to balance out the scoring, get up and down a little bit and shoot a little quicker in transition.”
Grace Hunter has led a resurgence of Bellmont basketball. While it isn’t fair to highlight just one person involved in the turnaround, there is no question that since the arrival of Hunter as a freshman, the program has been on the upswing.
This year’s squad should once again be a leading contender in the NE8 and be a threat in sectional play. Twenty wins is not impossible if some of the younger players emerge as complementary pieces.
Why not higher?
One aspect of last year’s team that stood out negatively was the free throw shooting. The Braves shot a collective 62 percent from the line. It is the little things that cost games against good teams such as Norwell, Concordia and Jay County, a trio of squads in which Bellmont has struggled against. Improvement from the line will help close out those tight games.
Jan. 13 vs. Norwell
Of Bellmont’s 10 losses in the last two years, three have come to Norwell, including a 61-49 setback last year.
Beating the Knights would not only mean an easier road to an NE8 title, it would also give the program a boost in beating a team it has had trouble conquering. Norwell being a potential sectional foe adds even more intrigue.