Raider debut brings lessons

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Southridge’s Kendyl McKeough stretched for a rebound Tuesday at Huntingburg Memorial Gym, where Southridge challenged Class 3A No. 10 Princeton in the first half before the Tigers edged away to a 54-29 victory. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor
HUNTINGBURG — Seconds after it came out of his mouth, Southridge girls basketball coach Greg Werner corrected himself from using the “R” word.

Six seasons ago, when the Raiders won just two games after winning 22 the year before with five senior starters, Southridge was rebuilding, Werner admitted. The roster renovation is similar this winter, with the exodus of 86 percent of last year’s point production fused with the influx of four fresh starters.

But don’t call it rebuilding, Werner insists.

Even after accepting a 54-29 setback to Class 3A No. 10 Princeton in Tuesday’s season opener at Huntingburg Memorial Gym, Werner’s confidence in his troops remained unbent, and he saw enough glimmers of promise in the season debut to ignore the rebuilding label.

“Are we happy about how we played? Absolutely not; I just know there’s a lot of good things there that we can improve on. We’re going to get a lot better,” Werner said.

“Kids have got to get used to stepping in and deciding, ”˜You know what, I’m over these first-game jitters, I’m over being a varsity basketball player. Now it’s time to go.’ And they will. And I think some of that happened tonight.”

The first clue: the Raiders weathered Princeton’s initial gust. The Tigers bounded to a 9-2 lead, but in a matter of three possessions, Southridge flipped to an 11-9 edge when Kadie Dearing swished successive 3-pointers and Aubrey Main cashed in on a three-point play.

For nearly two quarters, the Raiders (0-1) operated with the guile of a veteran group, finding Main rolling to the hoop for openings and swinging the ball with precision around to probe for openings in the Tigers’ feisty zone defense. Even when the Raiders went the final 5:18 of the first half with just one bucket, they were within 23-19 at halftime.

“We did a lot of good things tonight,” Dearing said. “Considering we’re such a young team, we’re growing, and that’s really all we can ask for right now.”

Werner wished aloud that he had more than 10 days of official practice to tune up for the opener. He followed that up with the hypothetical of “who can be ready for Jackie Young in 10 practices?”
Good question.

Princeton’s sophomore dynamo showcased her whole palette, finishing an array of smooth lefty drives with her off hand along with midrange jumpers and floaters. Werner raved that Young “glides like Jordan as far as how she plays.” Her final line was surely M.J.-like — 29 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, four steals — even as Southridge constricted Young’s driving lanes and forced the 6-foot guard to shoot over defenders and through contact.

Young singularly outscored Southridge 17-10 in the second half as her powerful closing kick overlapped with a Raider fade. The Raiders lost sight of the Tigers in a third quarter that included nine turnovers, four missed free throws and just four points.

“We did do a lot better the first half than our second half, but we need to compete the whole way through,” Dearing said.

“We are a younger team and we’re going to get there eventually, but it’s going to take some hard work and dedication.”

The two players responsible for shadowing Young most of the night also likely emerged as two of the newest offensive protagonists.

Main, who flashed a knack at rolling to the bucket early in the game, finished with nine points and six rebounds. Foul trouble dogged Dearing in the second half, but the sophomore still netted a team-best 12 points.

Werner figured that other Raiders are just now starting to discover what Dearing — the only returning starter — learned about 10 to 15 games through her freshman season last year.

“She’s learned how to handle the rigors of the game and the pressure, and the other kids will pick up on it, and I think they’ll come sooner than later because they’re used to playing together,” Werner said. “They’ll help bail each other out.”

Werner is confident that better shooting nights are ahead for Kayla Voegerl and Taylor Neukam, a pair of sophomores who combined for one make in 20 attempts. Sydney Altmeyer, the fourth sophomore in the starting lineup, yanked down 10 rebounds. Her board work stood out to Werner, who admitted he feared Princeton would manhandle the Raiders physically as they did last season.

“I was proud and pleased to see that ”˜You know what, these kids are maybe going to be able to handle the physicality of the game,’” Werner said.

That’s good — because the Raiders will find themselves in plenty of big-girl basketball games to start the season.

Saturday, they’ll host county neighbor Jasper, and then two-time Class 2A state champ Evansville Mater Dei visits Tuesday. Between Young and Mater Dei’s Maura Muensterman, the Raiders could see two of Indiana’s next three Miss Basketball winners in the first eight days of the season.

The opposition is stout and the learning curve is steep, but in the interim, Werner’s simple plea to his girls is to keep the faith.

“I believe in them 100 percent, they’re just going to have to believe in themselves, because I’m going to coach them up,” Werner said. “I’m not going to quit on them, but they have to make sure they believe in themselves, just like I believe in them, no matter how tough I am on them.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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