Wildcat girls return to floor ThursdayNovember 12, 2019
By JONATHAN SAXON
JASPER — The Jasper girls basketball team is only a couple of days away from its season opener at Southridge, but coach Jessica Mehringer is already noticing a major difference in the way the players are approaching the game.
“They’re going to play hard for each other,” she said. “I already see it in practice. The high-fives after they come out of a drill, the good job communicating with one another. That’s not something we’ve seen a ton of consistently, and we’re seeing that out of our four seniors.”
So, what’s fueling this heightened sense of team unity? Part of it is just a natural maturation that comes with a group that has played together for a few seasons. But the Wildcats also see it as a continuation of the bonds they strengthened through the success they achieved last season. Jasper won 15 games, enjoyed an 11-game winning streak in the middle of the season, and took home the Big Eight Conference title before falling, 53-49, against Evansville North in the sectional first round.
However, Jasper is excited to get back on the floor for another go-round, and is looking to use last year’s playoff exit as the big push to help it grow as a team.
“If we work together as a team, we won’t be stopped,” said senior guard Isabelle Blazey. “It feels nice to practice with the team and get back into it. It’s been fun, but it’s also been hard. The loss last year is motivating us to get better this year”
“Last year, we all found our roles on the team,” added senior forward Claire Knies. “Once we figured that out, we played, and I hope we figure that out sooner this season and build on that. Hopefully this year we can turn that around in sectional.”
The Wildcats are returning a core which features multiple players who averaged more than eight points per game: Brooke Nottingham, a senior guard, (10.6 ppg), and Knies (9.6 ppg). Jasper will return to the perimeter-oriented “four-out” scheme for its offense, but Mehringer said there will be some new rules instituted to better balance the floor and cut down on dribbling around the court. It’ll be a process to institute the new rules, but she is confident that the players have both the skills and flexibility to work out the kinks and find ways to create offense.
“They’ve bought in that it’s a process,” said Mehringer, who also indicated she will be setting the starting lineups according to matchups game by game rather than setting the starting five in stone. “Last year, we didn’t have a whole lot of structure in [the offense], but we’re athletic enough that they can make some things happen. We felt like they needed a little more structure so we could keep our spacing better. We’ve told them once they get the things we’re trying to get them to understand, we’ll start adding some more stuff in as the season goes.”
“We’ll get a lot more post touches and in-and-out play,” Knies added. “That will get the ball moving better, and better opportunities to score.”
The Wildcats are also looking to make some adjustments on the defensive end, namely instituting a more aggressive style of pressing their opponents. Blocking out for defensive rebounds has also been a major staple, so much so that the players are given extra conditioning opportunities if they don’t work hard enough to block out during practice.
“[Coach Mehringer] is looking for us to play an up-close man,” Blazey said. “She’s harping on us about that and trying to get a lot of steals from that.”
“We’re a fast team, and we’ve been working hard on getting up into the defense,” Knies added. “It’s harder for them to make plays they want. Ever since we started doing that at practice, it’s been a lot better for us defensively. I hope to see us pressing more this year.”
The Wildcats feel confident in all the tools they’ll bring to the floor when they kick off their season on Thursday. Mehringer believes that if they marry that talent with the intensity and enthusiasm they have displayed thus far in practice, then the sky’s the limit for what they could accomplish.
“They have an opportunity to be really successful once they get the rules figured out and play hard all the time,” Mehringer said. “That is going to be the difference for us. Skills we’ve got, if we get intensity and everybody behind one another, I think that’s going to be the key.”
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