Cats hope successful year carries to sectionalJanuary 27, 2019
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
JASPER — There’s a lot for the Jasper girls basketball team to be happy about this season. Whether it was the Wildcats’ perfect record in December that added up to an 11-game winning streak, or a successful Big Eight Conference season in which they won their first conference title since 2012.
But if there’s one thing that’s impressed head coach Jessica Mehringer the most, it’s how the Wildcats have come together as a team and have continued to grow as a group with each game.
“The amount of mental preparation that these girls have put in to being ready for each and every game is impressive,” Mehringer said. “I knew they had the skills and I know they’ve been locked in at practice, but when you can execute those same things mentally in a game situation, that’s what’s really impressed me.”
After graduating just one senior from last year’s team, the young Cats set out to do big things in their 2018-19 campaign. They boasted two of the area’s top scorers in Kortney Ruhe and Brooke Nottingham, as well as two players — Claire Knies and Reagan Egbert — who were able to post a significant amount of double-doubles with scoring and rebounding. The scariest thing about that foursome for opposing teams is that only one of those players, Ruhe, is a senior.
Nottingham, who is averaging 11.2 points per game and has lit up teams with her three-point shooting, has been impressed with how the Cats have grown this season. But at the same time, the Wildcats’ solid season hasn’t been any surprise to her.
“This season was everything we had hoped for,” Nottingham said. “We’re having a great, winning season, and we’ve come through with wins in a lot of tough games. We’ve really developed as a team a lot this year.”
The Cats toughed out several wins, including a big comeback victory against Big Eight foe Vincennes Lincoln, as well as ending Washington’s then-undefeated start to the year in December at the Hatchet House.
One player who’s played a major role in several of those victories is Ruhe, one of two seniors on the Wildcats’ roster, along with forward Rachel Gress. While Ruhe has always been a solid scorer (she averaged 9.2 points in 2018, up to 12.8 in 2019), she believes she’s become a more consistent scorer this season.
“I’ve just become more confident in myself knowing I can trust myself with shooting and knocking down shots,” Ruhe said. “A lot of that comes from my teammates, too, because I can’t score without them.”
Another player who’s made a huge impression on the Wildcats’ record this season is junior forward Reagan Egbert. Whether it’s been off the bench or in a starting role, she has continued to improve by leaps and bounds, and also is causing problems for opposing teams’ defenses.
“Around Christmastime, I pointed out to [Egbert] that I was really impressed with how much she has worked on trying to get better on her own,” Mehringer said. “She’s done a great job of making it tougher to guard us, because she gets rebounds, makes a lot of nice post moves and she’s got a pretty high ceiling for growth still. There’s no telling what she’ll be able to do.”
After traveling to Evansville last year, the Wildcats won’t have to leave the friendly confines of Jasper, as they’ll host the Class 4A sectional for the first time.
While some of the players don’t necessarily think playing at home is a huge advantage, Nottingham is ecstatic that the Wildcats won’t have to hit the road to start the postseason.
“Playing at home is so much better,” Nottingham said. “I hate going on the bus for long bus rides. The home-court advantage is obviously something we love.”
The one thing the Wildcats are hoping doesn’t happen again is a first-round exit. After defeating Evansville Harrison during the regular season last year, the Warriors defeated the Cats in the first round of the sectional, sending Jasper home early.
This year, the Cats will face Evansville North (11-11) in the opening game. The Huskies defeated the Wildcats 47-26 earlier this season in Evansville, but as Jasper knows, the postseason can be an entirely different animal.
“Last year, we made some critical errors late in the game and had some breakdowns earlier, where if we didn’t have those, it wouldn’t have been as close in the end,” Mehringer said about last year’s postseason loss to the Warriors. “I think we really learned from that game, and I’ve seen that this season with these girls being mentally ready and understanding game situations and what they need to do.”
Ruhe added: “I think for us to succeed and go as far as we want to, we have to keep our turnovers down and continue to work together. That’s a key factor for us. When we don’t work together, we know it, and so does everybody else.”
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