Oh basketball season. We missed you dearly. The leaves are changing and falling, the air is crisp and we are going to head back inside soon (masks on and all).
With girls basketball practices kicking off this coming Monday, it is time for Bounce to return to the scene officially and full time through March. To do so, I am going to take an idea off my burly friend Blitz’s preseason mapping by talking about six teams that I am more than interested in measuring up this preseason.
Everyone has something to prove in some way when a new season starts. But there are six that stand out to me more than any others. Six teams who really have something critical that needs to be watched this season to see if it stacks up to past expectations.
I’ll start with a caveat here: the Spartans have absolutely nothing to prove in the area. They have owned Northeast Indiana and the SAC since they entered the league. In the two years Bounce has existed in your consciousness, the Spartans have never been lower than number one in my weekly in-season power poll. That said, the regional round has ceased to be friendly to Homestead lately and they enter this season after losing another Player of the Year to graduation.
Am I willing to crown Homestead in the conference and Sectional right now? Yeah, pretty much. But the Spartans have a lot more to prove than that because that is what Homestead basketball is all about. We are now on the backside of Ayanna Patterson’s high school career so that is added incentive to make a postseason run. After an early exit this past spring, the Spartans are going to fight to get back past that Regional Saturday.
Instability in the Cadets lineup last year hurt a bit. In the year after the Carissa Garcia era, they struggled to find consistency in parts of the season. Their interior paid dividends and they got flashes of strong play from underclassmen like Annaka Nelson and LonDynn Betts, but in clutch moments they shied away from letting loose with younger players.
Still with the help of saavy vets Chanteese Craig and Rhaya Kaschinske, they came close to a Sectional title after upsetting favorites Angola. Replacing three key guard (two to graduation and one to transfer) means that the Cadets will have to hand some keys to the castle to Betts, Nelson and others who they didn’t lean as hard on in the past.
The Railroaders were clearly a year ahead of schedule with last season’s Sectional title with a lineup of four sophomores and a freshman seeing the majority of time on the court. That changes this year as Garrett won’t sneak up on anyone and expectations are going to be sky high. There is not much room for gradual growth left for Garrett; this is clearly coach Bob Lapadot’s time to drag control of the NECC in his direction with all eyes on his team.
Garrett will also have to prove how well they can alter their fantastic chemistry with the absence of Faith Owen and the addition of transfer Taylor Gerke. That group meshed so well last season and now they have to change that dynamic while not expected to miss a beat. Had Garrett not won a Sectional in 2020, the bar wouldn’t be set so high right now but they did and now they have something pretty big to live up to.
One of the very best players in the area, Hanna Knoll, and most of her supporting cast are back and have to climb back up the ladder after last season’s early Sectional exit. There was an expectation they would play on Regional Saturday and it never happened so now they have to figure out how to venture back in a very tough NECC and a Sectional that features the aforementioned Concordia and Garrett.
That means that new coach Nick Burlingame has his work more cut out for him than other first year head coaches. He brings a wealth of experience with him to Angola and will have to gel immediately with a team that was so in sync with former coach Brandon Appleton. The Hornets know they have to get better every day this season and never let their foot off the gas. Bounce will be watching intently to see if they can do just that.
After back to back Sectional titles, the Tigers did not have the showing last year that they wanted. They are another team that is kind of on a clock to bring home another crown with one of the best players they’ve seen come through their program in senior Emme Boots. Bluffton, almost inexplicably, found themselves at the bottom of the ACAC last season. They struggled to replace some pieces lost to graduation and also dealt with key players missing a multitude of games in the critical first half of the season.
Will the Tigers get to mesh early under new coach Eric Mounsey? If they can find cohesion, Boots can keep a rhythm and Zoe Barger can continue her exponential growth down low, the Tigers could bounce back rather quickly.
We shouldn’t have to call it a post Grace Hunter era anymore but it was Hunter and coach Andy Heim that changed the dynamic of Bellmont girls basketball forever so the 2019 star’s absence is going to be something to follow up for some time still. With the graduation of Hunter’s sidekicks Kenzie McMahon and Meghan Busick, this is truly a team that grew up in an era where girls basketball first started mattering to the Bellmont community again.
That means the presence of all three of those girls meant a lot to this current group and now they are going to have to do it on their own. Are they ready for that? Coach Andy Heim will tell you absolutely but these things have to play out on the court. This is a true second act of Bellmont’s resurgence in girls basketball. Let’s see how they kick it off, shall we?
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