Top to bottom, invested Raiders fully buy in

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Taylor Neukam, left, Aubrey Main, Sydney Altmeyer, Kendyl McKeough, Lindsey Schaeffer and Paxton Combs joined hands in prayer after a Southridge victory in January. Neukam, Altmeyer, McKeough and Combs have all embraced peripheral roles for the Raiders, enabling them to claim a sectional crown and a date with seventh-ranked Madison at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the Class 3A regional at Jasper.

Herald Sports Editor

It may be his go-to line. Whether Greg Werner’s team has just drummed a regular-season foe by 25 points or captured a sectional championship as it did last Saturday, the Southridge girls basketball coach spouts the same phrase that can be applied to explain any measure of success.

The Raider have bought in.

To explain what that means, well, that requires further explanation.

The buying-in belief doesn’t have the same rubber-stamp meaning for each player. It means different things to different players. It makes achieving that balance with a rotation of seven girls all the more difficult.

But Werner lauds this year’s Raiders for accomplishing it, allowing a postseason surge that continues at 10:30 a.m. Saturday when the Raiders (16-5) tangle with No. 7 Madison (16-2) in the Class 3A regional semifinals at Jasper. OK, so the players have bought in, warming up to their very specific, if not always glamorous, roles. That’s only the first phase of being fully bought-in.

“We talk about for kids to buy in, they have to know and accept a role. And kids accept roles sometimes just fine because they understand where they are and where they fit. But sometimes mom and dads don’t see that, and sometimes grandmas and grandpas don’t see that, and then that’s where you can have problems,” Werner said.

“I really get a sense that this is a group — and I think part of the reason they have success — is that I think it’s a group of parents buying in and being supportive. It makes a huge difference in how your team plays on the floor, and it gets your players believing 100 percent, and there’s a mutual respect between parents. It’s easy to talk to parents as a coach when you know they’re all in and appreciative, even though not everybody gets to be the No. 1 superstar. They all are important in that role, and that’s what we try to do, is let them know even though your role may be very limited, you’re very, very important.”

The notion starts at the top, with the team’s lone senior who’s been willing to step offstage while the Raiders’ talented youngsters command the spotlight.

Paxton Combs has regularly been the second player off Southridge’s bench, though the forward didn’t see the floor in the sectional semifinals and didn’t get in to the sectional championship until the wee moments.

That’s OK. Werner credited the perseverance of Combs, who didn’t get much playing time as a middle-schooler, either. But she stuck with the sport, Werner credits, and Combs’ effect is best measured when she’s not in the game.

“I love my team,” Combs said, “so I love playing with them and cheering them on and seeing them succeed.”

“She’s had a perfect attitude about it all year,” Werner added. “I know it’s frustrating and she wants to play, but the kid has improved so much and I think she’s been a great leader for us and shown that leadership in how she’s handled it. Because she’ll flip her jersey (when playing for the scout team in practice) when things aren’t going right with preparing defensively, and she’ll say, ”˜You know what, I need to step in here, I’ll make us better.’ And she does it on her own without me having to say it, hardly ever.”

Buying in applies to the girls with a higher profile, too.

For Kadie Dearing, the third-leading scorer behind Kayla Voegerl (14.8 ppg) and Aubrey Main (9.7), her coach values her discretion. Werner said “she had to learn there were things she couldn’t have a quick trigger on” in the interest of Southridge operating a patient offense and waiting out defenses to earn better shots.

Suffice it to say, no Raider spends time tracking and comparing her volume of shot attempts and scoring average.

Freshman Kendyl McKeough scores 4.2 ppg and could average double that, Werner said, “but she has to earn that trust a little more” as her game develops. Taylor Neukam and Sydney Altmeyer both score 2.8 ppg, and both have the skill sets to put up more. Neukam has fielded the inquiry before around school: Why don’t you shoot more?

“Toward the beginning of the season,” she said, “I think a lot of us got that.”

But no one’s apt to stray from designations. That’s why Altmeyer cheerfully devotes most of her focus toward rebounding and defense — with emphasis on the latter, as Werner has implored the 6-foot sophomore for better footwork and more aggressive defense that way instead of with her hands. Defense and rebounding: around the Raider program, Altmeyer’s assignment is known as bringing the taters.

“And then everything else is just gravy,” said Altmeyer, who averages seven boards per contest. “Buying in, for me, is just bringing them the taters every game, doing what’s expected of me.”

Same goes for Neukam, who practices prudence about when the time is right to spot up and shoot. Not every team possesses those sensibilities, she stressed.

“You don’t want someone who’s not a 3-point shooter to be shooting 3s all night, and I think some teams, if they hit one they’re going to keep shooting and shooting, and their coach maybe doesn’t tell them that’s not their shot,” Neukam said. “Some coaches just look to score and they don’t tell their players what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot, so players don’t really know because they’ve not been coached like that.”

Given her speed and instincts, Neukam could eventually become a major player in the Raider offense and possesses “the ability to play more like (Voegerl),” Werner said.

But that comes later. For now, Neukam and everyone else are firmly bought-in.

“We all know that no one’s here to be the star; we’re the team, so we’re the stars altogether,” Altmeyer said. “We just know that we can’t win a game without each other.”

Contact Brendan Perkins

More on