The Carroll Chargers took their lumps last season after graduating eight seniors, finishing with double-digit losses for the first time in five years.
Despite the 14-11 final mark, Carroll did win its third-consecutive sectional title and the wealth of girls that Coach Mark Redding has back are now mostly experienced veterans instead of wide-eyed varsity newcomers.
“We won our sectional last year largely because we were in a field with teams similar to ours, programs trying to recover from losing a lot to graduation,” Redding said. “But we got better as the season went on and the girls earned that title.”
Junior Emily Parrett (Top 50 Girls Hoops #12)returns as arguably the most talented of the Carroll bunch. The guard averaged 12.8 points a season as a sophomore new to the lineup. She will be joined at the guard position by senior Olivia Hoeppner (Top 50 Girls Hoops #23), who led the team in free throw percentage (76.6%), assists (3.4 per game) and steals (3.5 per game).
The third top guard that will be in the starting lineup is Malia Williams (Top 50 Girls Hoops #39), who hit more than half of her shots from three-point range last year while averaging 9.1 points per game.
Delane Sheets, who got some key minutes in the postseason when Hoeppner wasn’t feeling well, is another key guard who averaged 8.0 ppg last year.
“We have four really strong guards with experience coming back,” Redding said. “When you mix that with our bigs we can be pretty good.”
Six-foot post Jasmine Anderson will be expected to play a bigger role after the sophomore saw action in six games last season. She will be joined in the paint by 6-1 junior Olivia Lowery.
The Chargers did graduate a trio of players in Kate Schlatter, Makenna Sheets and Abbey Jackson, but Redding is optimistic about his new class of freshmen. Four of them will likely see action at some point at the varsity level and could contribute sooner rather than later.
“The good thing is with the experience we have, the transition will be easier for our freshmen,” Redding said. “Last year it would have been very difficult to put freshmen on the floor in key roles because most of the girls were still learning. But now we have the leadership.”
The schedule is once again daunting, with a challenging SAC slate and trips to Hamilton Southeastern and Northridge as well as a visit from Carmel. But Redding feels he has the team that will look a bit different from past Chargers squads.
“I really like this group and how they run and get up the floor,” Redding said. “You are going to see us really push the ball and use a lot of court.”
After a 14-win campaign a year ago, Carroll brings a lot of pieces back from what will be looked back upon as a learning year for a fair amount of the roster.
Led by some sure-handed guards who can score in a variety of ways and mixing in some size in the post and some young talent off the bench, Carroll should challenge for a top-three spot in the SAC and a sectional title.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
There is a lot to like on the roster, but not much in the way of a go-to scorer. The Chargers will have to win with team efforts and defense. We saw signs of that last year against teams like Homestead, but also watched Carroll go on stretches in which it could not buy a basket and couldn’t avoid several turnovers in a row.
That must change this year.
DEC. 6 AT HOMESTEAD
Carroll has lost 11 consecutive games to its rival on the other side of Allen County, including a pair of lopsided losses last season.
That said, the Chargers have also played the Spartans tough at times, including a one-point loss in the regular season two years ago.
Homestead is expected to be dynamic once again, but if Carroll can go on the road in early December and play the Spartans tough, it will say a lot about where Redding’s team is this year.
PLAYER TO WATCH
MALIA WILLIAMS, SENIOR
At barely 5-foot-7 (if that), Williams is not going to intimidate many opponents with her size. But Williams showcased her love of shooting from behind the arc last year, tossing up 122 shots from range, hitting 39.
Carroll will need to stretch defenses and open up opportunities for its bigs inside or for its guards to slash to the bucket. If Williams can improve upon her 32 percent from three and become a deadlier threat from the outside, teams will have to respect and not be able to zone the Chargers as much as we saw last year.