Bellmont exorcised two decades worth of demons last February when it swept through its Class 3A sectional to capture the program’s first sectional crown since 2002.
The run ended the next week in a regional semifinal loss to Benton Central, but there was plenty to celebrate over the course of a campaign that saw the Braves win 17 games for the third-consecutive season and continue its run of recent area dominance.
With nearly all of its major contributors back from last year, headlined by double-digit scorers Sydney Keane and Hailey Cole, Bellmont looks the part of a tremendously dangerous squad heading into this season.
Despite being the lone player moving on, Kenzie Fuelling was a key contributor, averaging 10.7 points and guiding the offense as she led the team in assists before her season came to a close early due to injury. Now at Ohio Northern, Fuelling’s absence leaves a void but also opportunity for someone to fill the role.
The senior Keane will likely get the bulk of the early opportunities to step in, particularly at the guard spot to manage the offense.
“Sydney does everything on the basketball floor at a high level: defend, rebound, push the pace, shoot, slash to the rim, etc.,” Bellmont coach Andy Heim said. “Last year really showed why Sydney is so great. She stepped in to run point for us in a difficult spot (when Fuelling got hurt) and thrived.
“Her determination and leadership really brought the team together and she was a real catalyst during our sectional championship run.”
Keane will be complemented by the junior Cole, who was a menace around the basket by averaging 10.7 points and team-high 6.5 rebounds per game.
“It is rare to find a post player that can handle the ball and pass the way she does,” said Heim about Cole. “Over the summer, that ability caught the eye of a handful of college coaches. Last year she got thrown into the varsity starting lineup and didn’t miss a beat.”
Keane will not be the only senior being looked upon to set the tone. Rachel Bleke (3.6 ppg, 6 rpg) and Ellen Scott (5.7 ppg, 1.6 apg) will both be key contributors.
The junior class also has some players in addition to Cole, with Macey Spiegel (2.4 ppg), Tessa Spiegel (1.7 ppg) and Arabelle Laurent (0.9) all expected to see their impact increase.
After an exceptional debut as a ninth grader last year, Emily Bleke is back looking to build on her first season in which she averaged 6.1 points and 5.3 rebounds for the Braves.
“Coming into last year, Emily was the best freshman we have had in my time at Bellmont since Grace (Hunter),” Heim said. “That is not taking anything away from all the others, more it shows how talented she is.
“She can score at all three levels and she is one of our best rebounders.”
Bellmont will have some added size in junior Taylor Louis as well.
While the offensive threats are aplenty, this squad will still be led by a defense that is all in with Heim’s philosophies. Bellmont allowed 35.9 points per game last season, the sixth-straight season in which the team has allowed 40 points or less.
The schedule is daunting, with a loaded Northeast Eight a big part of the equation, but the Braves look the part of a team that should be able to eclipse that 17-win mark once again.
A defending sectional champion with a lot of production back? It is easy to put some high expectations on the Braves this season. Heim has a roster of girls that know what is expected of them in the system who are quick, athletic and can get after the ball defensively.
Heim also has mentioned how this is the deepest bench he has ever had at Bellmont.
WHY NOT HIGHER
Put Bellmont in an empty gym with no distractions or pressure and the roster can knock down shots from everywhere on the floor. But put the Braves against a fierce defense in a tough environment and that shooting percentage goes down.
Now, that’s the case with every team at every level, but the Braves must improve with its outside shooting as well as its success at the free throw line. Just two players- Cole and Scott – shot over 70 percent from the line last year.
Jan. 6 at Columbia City
With the Northeast Eight expected to be highly competitive once again, the league will come down to being successful against the top squads.
Bellmont finished in the middle of the pack of the NE8 last year looking up at the likes of Columbia City, Norwell and Huntington North.
Beginning Jan. 6, the Braves play that trio of the course of 14 days. If this team is serious about being a player atop the league, it must find ways to compete against the best. It starts here.
Emily Bleke, sophomore
It is tough to put this kind of pressure on a sophomore, but Coach Heim set the expectation for Bleke when he called her the best freshman outside of Grace Hunter that he has ever had at Bellmont.
Sydney Keane is set to be the leader of this team, but this team must be able to score more than a year ago if it is going to accomplish its lofty goals. Gone is Fuelling, so another step forward by Bleke would be huge, particularly offensively.
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