Over the last three seasons, talking about Bellmont girls’ basketball has been tied with talking about Grace Hunter.
The standout finished her career with 1,571 points, not just Bellmont’s all-time leading scorer, but the most prolific scorer in Adams County girls’ basketball history.
Led by Hunter, the Squaws won 58 games over the last three years, including a 21-3 record last season. But the 2018-19 campaign ended on a sour note, with second-leading scorer Meghan Busick suffering a torn ACL in sectional play and Bellmont falling to Marion in the sectional championship.
Hunter is now gone, and with her much of the lore that has turned around Bellmont hoops. Coach Andy Heim’s job is to make sure the new-found success doesn’t leave with her.
“Grace is gone, but we bring back the four other starters we had around her,” Heim said. “Along with a deeper bench, I think we have some players who are going to take some teams by surprise.”
The leading returning scorer is Busick, who missed most of the summer rehabbing her knee. She was able to begin getting up some form shots just before the pre-season began and has now been cleared to practice fully. Heim said he will work her in slowly but surely as the season nears.
Busick averaged 15 points and 3.8 rebounds as a junior. She likes to play more on the perimeter, but can attack and get to the basket, finishing with a left-handed scoop shot that is her forte.
Also returning is Kenzie McMahon (Top 50 Girls Hoops #22), a player that has taken a back seat to others the last few years but will need to step up as a senior. She averaged nearly 7.5 points per contest a year ago, but Heim said that he needs McMahon to step up and be a double-digit scorer.
Rounding out the returning starters are junior Morgan Shifferly (6.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and senior Emma Keane (5.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg).
Sophomore Kenzie Fuelling stepped up in Busick’s absence late last year and got some varsity experience. That time on the floor should pay dividends.
Heim is also counting on a couple of other bench players in junior Lauren Bleke and Kayla Heckman.
While Hunter is gone, Heim is seeing her impact remain throughout the program. Girls continue to run extra sprints after practice, a practice that Hunter started on her own and was steadily joined by her teammates. Current seniors have stepped up vocally as well, filling the leadership void.
“She has left that legacy,” said Heim about Hunter. “The little things have carried over. Her lasting impression will continue to lead this team.”
Early-season tests against Concordia Lutheran and Bishop Dwenger will be a good barometer on where Bellmont is early on.
While Hunter is gone, there is a lot of talent still at Bellmont, led by Busick. More importantly, some of the top athletes in the school are now coming out for basketball, something that was not the case just a few years ago.
Heim now has talent to work with across all of his classes, not just led by one or two players.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
There will inevitably be a drop due to the loss of the program’s all-time leading scorer. How steep that drop is likely depends on the players that will need to take on a bigger role on both ends of the court and in the locker room.
Despite the success in recent years, the program still has not won a sectional championship since 2002. Getting over that hurdle will continue to be a top priority.
JAN. 18 AT NORWELL
The Northeast 8 could very well be on the line in this one when the Squaws head on the road to take on the Knights. Bellmont was able to beat Norwell twice last season, including in the first round of sectional play. The Knights will be looking to avenge those defeats and set the tone for a potential rematch in the postseason a few weeks later.
PLAYER TO WATCH
KENZIE MCMAHON, SENIOR
What made Bellmont so successful in recent seasons wasn’t just Hunter, but rather the secondary scorers that were able to perform well enough that opponents couldn’t key on a single player.
That’s where McMahon comes in. Busick is arguably one of the top five players in the area and her scoring average will show as much. For the Squaws to challenge for NE8 and sectional titles, they need other players like McMahon to take up some of the scoring load.