Collaboration crucial to Raider rehaul

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Sophomore Kadie Dearing, left, is the lone returning starter back for a Southridge basketball team that lost 86 percent of its scoring with six graduated seniors from last season. The new-look Raiders will open their season Tuesday night at home against Princeton.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

There’s a thoroughness about the way Greg Werner speaks, as the Southridge girls basketball coach presents facts and thoughts in comprehensive detail.

It’s five words, though, from Werner that best encapsulate the state of his basketball team.
“We’re ready, but we’re not,” he said.

The personnel has potential, the Raiders feel assured of a fleet of offensive options, and Southridge retools with more speed than before. But no one’s naive to the fact replacing four starters, including four-year stalwarts Victoria Schaefer and Kendyl Dearing, is no easy proposition — especially against a schedule that’s as good as ever and won’t afford many gimme victories, by Werner’s estimation.

Southridge’s voyage of self-discovery will launch Tuesday night against Princeton at Huntingburg Memorial Gym, and ready or not — or maybe a little bit from each column — the Raiders are marching forward with a different complexion.

“We know we have a great young nucleus, but molding that nucleus for varsity basketball is a tough job and it takes time. We’re going to have to have a lot of young kids step in at an early age and fill that void of great leadership,” said Werner, who’s led the Raiders to winning seasons in seven of his nine seasons as he enters his 10th year.

“We still think we have some great players, (we’ve) just got to piece it together, it’s going to be a work in progress. We don’t play any weak teams, especially early on, so we’re not going to have much room for error.”

Werner professed that “90 percent of the teams are really good” as most of the Raiders’ opponents are at a peak in their talent cycles and Southridge also hops back up to Class 3A, where the Raiders competed from 2007 through ’11 before shifting back to 2A the last two seasons. With Princeton, Jasper, two-time Class 2A state champ Evansville Mater Dei plus Evansville Bosse to open the season, the schedule is front-loaded as usual, just like it was last season when the Raiders stuttered to an 0-4 start then won 12 of their next 13 before closing a 13-8 season with a first-round sectional loss to North Posey.

The Raiders had Schaefer and Dearing to tow them to last year’s turnaround as the two combined to score 64 percent of Southridge’s points. Werner credited the rest of the Raiders for being “great defenders and great teammates” to enable last season’s success. Now, opportunity comes for those players who were on the periphery.

“We lost two big players, which was hard. But we come out every day, try to be successful, and we’re working hard every day,” Raider sophomore guard Kayla Voegerl said. “It’s hard. It’s not easy playing for Southridge basketball. It’s not physically hard, but mentally we have to keep being there and just staying up with everything.”

So far, Werner feels confident about who he’s got running the show.

He said Voegerl and sophomore classmate Kadie Dearing have begun taking control of the offense. Valued primarily for her defense last year, Dearing (3.8 ppg) is the top scorer back and is “one of the quickest, fastest players I’ve ever coached,” Werner said. Aubrey Main, a 5-foot-11 junior, and 6-0 sophomore Sydney Altmeyer bolster the interior, and a versatile addition comes from Kendyl McKeough, a 5-9 freshman who can be plugged anywhere from shooting guard to small forward to power forward.

Werner sees a roster with diversity, which is a welcome quality. While he lauded the leadership and output from Schaefer and Kendyl Dearing last year, Werner called last season “the hardest coaching job I’ve ever had to do” as he gameplanned around essentially two scorers. Werner thinks there’s a breadth of more options now. But the punch comes intermittently.

“We’ve got everybody that can score now. But will the consistency of game to game come? That’s not been there yet. It’s not been there practice to practice,” Werner said. “I have a group that I’ve got five players on the floor that can score. It’s just (a question of) will the five make up for the great two that we had?”

In Werner’s first nine seasons he’s had one team boast three scorers averaging double digits (in 2010-11), and he said the same type of balance is possible with this group. For the Raiders, the collaborative approach is already understood.

“Being a point guard is a big role, and I’m very glad to be a leader, but I’m not the only leader out here,” Voegerl said. “We all have to be leaders.”

One of Southridge’s fatal flaws last season was a lack of physicality and strength, Werner said, and that’s where a pair of 5-10 forwards in Paxton Combs (the team’s only senior) and junior Lindsey Schaeffer can satisfy that need. Sophomore Taylor Neukam should also help on the perimeter for a team that could bust out from its usual meticulous halfcourt sets. Werner hinted that the Raiders could shift gears to a snappier speed, as the coach chuckled while noting that fans like watching a Kentucky or Louisville style versus slower, plodding schemes.

“It’d be nice if we could get good transition, get some easy buckets every once in a while, because we’ve always been a team that’s had to execute (in the halfcourt),” Werner said. “Whether or not, we’ll see, but this is a team that’s more capable of getting up and down the floor.”

On the defensive end, Werner anticipates the Raiders will be more of a work in progress. But he expressed more faith in the ceiling of his team than concerns of existing deficiencies. “The weaknesses are not anything that’s going to be a problem; it’s just inexperience weaknesses,” he said.

Uncertainty interspersed with potential: It’s the ongoing theme for a team trying to move from the former to the latter.

“We can compete, but will we be ready to compete?” Werner said.

“I don’t have all all-stars, but I’ve got great kids. And with great kids we can win, because we’re going to make them smart.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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