Lady Wildcats return strong, ready for basketball season
As HHS girls basketball coach Jon Holliday has been noted to say about his team’s success through the years, it’s the same song, just a different verse. The how doesn’t change too much, just the why and the who behind the success.
Last year was more of the same, despite having a very young group of players comprising the majority of the varsity squad. While the Wildcats’ run of Big Seven League dominance may have come to an end, the team still rallied together in the final months and made a strong push to take third at the Class 4A-DII state tournament and finish 17-8 overall.
This year, the Wildcats will see some more modulation and remixing to the rhythm of success, especially with the graduation of Kyrstie Miller last spring (now playing at Emporia State), though Holliday noted just what those changes will look like is one big question mark until the players take the court for the first time.
“You have some ideas, but you never know how they’re going to play until you actually get the kids on the floor and see where they’re at, who’s gotten better, who’s matured and who’s willing to take the next step forward,” Holliday said.
For his part, Holliday said he was more than ready for the start of practices a little less than two weeks ago and so far the players have matched the coach’s excitement and are already starting to find their voice to add a verse to the ballad of Holton’s success on the hardwood.
“A year ago at this time, we were struggling for an identity. We were struggling to figure out what we were going to do. It took us until late January before we finally got to that point in time,” Holliday said. “I think this group’s already taken what we learned hopefully from the end of the year last year. They understand what it’s going to take to be successful, how hard you’re going to have to practice, how hard you’re going to have to play and how efficient you have to be for that success.”
“They’ve already started the year that way. They’ve come in hungry. They’ve come in with some good energy. The enthusiasm’s been good. It’s an exciting time,” Holliday added. “We bust them pretty hard in the chops and they just keep coming back for more. That’s something we didn’t get a year ago that this group already seems to have.”
What’s the key to these early changes? According to Holliday, it’s something as simple as time. With a year of experience under their belts, a lot of the young players come in with a better understanding of the entire routine, which is part of the reason Holliday believes the team has gotten off to such a good start.
“That’s a year of maturity. This group of kids played awful scared last year early in the year. A lot of these kids were thrust into roles they weren’t ready for and, because of the success they had a year ago, they understand it. They really have embraced it, have stepped on the floor and know what it takes and they’re not backing away from work ethic right now,” Holliday said.
Some of those young returning players include sophomore guards Courtney Boswell and Ashlyn Weilert, who Holliday said could be key to the team excelling this season. If they continue to progress and provide solid guard play, he said he is hoping the Wildcats can push the pace on offense a little bit and get more easy points in transition.
Rebounding and defense are two more focal points that are always at the center of Holton’s formula and Holliday said he will be looking for a little more from this year’s team in both areas, especially on defense.
“Defensively, we have to get some bite to us. We can’t just go through the motions, play in front of people and try to out-athlete people because that’s not going to work for us at this juncture of the season,” Holliday said.
That will especially be crucial in league play as Holliday said there may be as much parity in the league as he can remember, with five or six teams that could challenge for a Big Seven League title this season.
Whereas last year the Wildcats knew their run might be coming to a close with some tough challengers, Holliday said they should be right back in the mix this year with the top teams on a level playing field, though that also means the team can’t afford any off nights.
If the team was struggling on a given night last season, the Wildcats had a go-to player (Miller) who would pick up the slack. Without that this year, it will truly take a team effort for Holton to get back to the lofty heights it reached in the end.
So far, Holliday said the team has taken that in stride and while no one leader has stepped up yet to help shape the team, he said all the players have created a vocal and energetic aura for this team.
While the team will need some leaders to step up, as well as things have been going early on Holliday said he wouldn’t worry about that just yet, though that is one of the biggest holes to fill after Miller’s departure, along with the defense she provided to help create possessions and mask some issues.
“It’s going to be a challenge. She’s got big shoes to fill and we’re not going to fill them with one person. We’re going to have to do that with several people who area going to have to rise and play a bigger role and hopefully take up that void,” Holliday said.
While players like junior Hayley Thompson will likely help take up some of that load, Holliday said he has also been moving some players around in practice to help carry the collective burden.
Knowing the pattern and process that led to the Wildcats’ previous success is a big advantage, though, and something Holliday said he hopes the team utilizes to come together quicker once competition starts this season and Holton starts down the path again that more often than not has ended in success at the state level.
“That’s always the goal and the intent, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that you’re chasing. Then, you have to break it down on a day-to-day, possession-to-possession basis. I think if we do that, we’re going to have a chance and that’s all we can ask,” Holliday said. “I think you’ll see a group of kids step on the floor and have some fire to them. If we do that, we’re going to like what we see this year.”
Returning starters/letter winners:
Hayley Thompson, 5’ 11”, jr., forward: 7.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg
Ashlyn Weilert, 5’ 4”, so., guard: 6.7 ppg, 1.6 spg
Courtney Boswell, 5’ 7”, so., guard: 5.4 ppg, 2.8 apg, 2.0 spg
Mackenzie Moore, 5’ 10”, jr., forward: 2.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg
Emily Degenhardt, 5’ 7”, sr., guard: 1.6 ppg, 1.4 rpg
Kimmie Snepp, 5’ 8”, sr., forward: 1.4 ppg, 1.5 rpg
Taryn Weilert, 5’ 2”, sr., guard: 1.9 ppg, 1.4 rpg
Quinn Holaday, 5’ 8”, jr., forward