Wildcats have experience, balance on their side

Herald File Photo by Sarah Ann Jump
Claire Knies is one of Jasper’s many returning girls basketball players for this upcoming season as the Wildcats retained all five starters from a year ago as well as the majority of their bench unit. The Cats are seeking to build momentum from last year’s 11-win season.


It’s safe to say that there are high hopes around the Jasper girls basketball program for this upcoming season.
The Wildcats only graduated one player from last year’s team that finished with an 11-10 record and ended the regular season with an eight-game winning streak.

While Jasper was defeated in the opening round of last year’s sectional by Evansville Harrison, the Wildcats are hoping to build on the teamwork and success they had last year especially with nearly their entire nucleus returning.

“I feel like we’re already starting to click a little more as a team,” said senior Rachel Gress. “We ended last year early but we had a strong thing going before that and I think we’re still kind of just building off of that.”

Fellow senior Kortney Ruhe said that one of the primary keys for the Wildcats heading into this season will be the fact that they return their entire starting lineup and nearly their entire bench group from last season.
But just how important is having that returning group?

“Big, it’s very big,” said Ruhe with a laugh. “We’ve got some good shooters, we’ve got some good drivers, we’ll have speed and height and if we put it all together I think we can be unstoppable. It’s been kind of cool to just take it all in (at practice) and see five, ten players working together toward being a team.”

Jasper head coach Jessica Mehringer, who is in her second season as the leader of the Wildcats girls basketball program, said that last summer before the school year the Cats mostly just practiced learning new plays due to a new system with a new head coach.

But during this past offseason, Mehringer said the Cats did a lot more in-game work which she thinks will pay dividends once the regular season kicks off on November 6 at Vincennes Rivet.

“The good summer we’ve had has really brought them into practice with a positive attitude and the intensity has been awesome — I think it’s because they feel good about where they’re at,” Mehringer said. “Last season early we struggled how to play together but then figured it out before hitting a little bit of a wall toward the end of the season. But I think there’s a lot of positive thinking in terms of what the possibilities are.”

In terms of returning players, Jasper’s primary starting lineup from last season — Brooke Nottingham (Jr., guard), Kortney Ruhe (Sr., guard), Meredith Hilgefort (Jr., guard/forward), Claire Knies (Jr., forward) and Riley Merder (Jr., forward/center) — all will be back as well as key reserves Reagan Egbert (Jr., forward) and Rachel Gress (Sr., forward/center) with several other younger players expecting to see varsity action as well.

While the trio of Knies (9.1 points per game), Nottingham (12.6 ppg) and Ruhe (10.9 ppg) did the majority of the scoring last season, Mehringer believes that the Cats have so many weapons that can attack you on any given night which will cause headaches early and often for opposing defenses.

 “You can have three kids on any given night scoring in double digits and then in the next game it could be three others,” Mehringer said. “I honestly think that’s what makes this group so special — there’s not just one person you can key in on. When you can name off six or seven people that can have an impact, you’re looking pretty good.”

Through the practices that Jasper has had so far, the players have noticed an increase in intensity and a lot of hard work in their drills and scrimmages they’ve had in the offseason.

The Wildcats are aiming to come into the regular season full of energy and continue to work hard at growing a bond with one another so they can have a longer stay in the postseason this go around.

“I feel like we’re going to learn from our mistakes we made last year and we’re already starting to come together as a team and work more together,” Ruhe said. “When we’re here practicing, we’re not goofing off as much and we’re just trying to prepare for what’s coming for us.”

Gress added: “We’re just trying to spend more time together as a team and get a bond so that we kind of know what each other is thinking.”

This season, Jasper will only face one new opponent as they’ve added Evansville Central to the schedule — they’ll face the Bears on December 1 in Evansville. Jasper will also face several teams who are ranked in the preseason polls such as Class 4A No. 9 Jeffersonville (Jan. 12 on the road), Class 3A No. 7 Evansville Memorial (Nov. 17 on the road) Class 2A No. 9 Evansville Mater Dei (Jan. 5 on the road) and Class 1A No. 1 Vincennes Rivet (Nov. 6 on the road).

But even with the tough schedule and more road games than home games (12 to 10), Jasper has high expectations for this season as they can remember rather vividly the sour taste that losing in the first round of last year’s sectional was like. The goal this season is to not encounter a similar feeling like last season. What will ensure Jasper’s postseason run can be a success?

“What I would like to see is them communicating, working together and making adjustments on the court,” Mehringer said. “These girls have grown up together and what I see in practice encourages me because they’re talking to each other about what works and what doesn’t work. Those things are going to be the things that help them get to where they want to be.”

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