Lady Wildcats looking to cash in on experience this basketball season
In some ways, the past couple of seasons have been like a prolonged period of growing pains for the Holton girls basketball team. With several upperclassmen back to lead the team in 2015-2016, though, HHS coach Jon Holliday is hoping that pays off for a veteran group of Wildcats this winter.
“It’s a group that kind of has that maturity,” Holliday said. “They understand what they’re going to have to do and how they’re going to have to get there. I think a lot of that has to do with the maturity factor after being through it two or three times now and being the upperclassmen, having that put on their shoulders.”
So far, that has shown through in practice as Holliday noted the players have picked up the pace and effort, improved at handling whatever the coaches throw at them and are just generally playing at a higher level.
Having four of five starters returning helps, as Ashlyn Weilert, Courtney Boswell, Mackenzie Moore and Hayley Thompson are all back and looking to help the team push forward after going 13-9, finishing third in the Big Seven and taking runner-up at sub-state in 2014-2015.
Those juniors and seniors have helped set the tone in the first few weeks and the rest of the team has followed suit. Right now, it’s easy to keep up that enthusiasm, but Holliday noted the true test will be if the Wildcats can maintain that for the entire season.
“It’s kind of like a New Year’s resolution. You start over and you hope you can make some changes that last for awhile and stick and make yourselves a better basketball team and a better coach,” Holliday said.
On top of that quartet of starters, the return of Shay Tanking after a stellar freshman campaign means the Wildcats will have their top five scoring options back this winter as well as a couple key reserves in seniors Quinn Holaday and Sarah Sweet.
There is talent in the younger classes that stepped up at the JV level last season, too, but Holliday noted he will have to wait and see what type of impact those players can make at the varsity level.
Building the right roster takes time, but the Wildcats have a solid core that will likely be highly motivated this winter after coming one win away from making it to the 4A-Division II state tournament a season ago.
“I left last year with a bad taste in my mouth as far as our sub-state final,” Holliday said. “I think it was a game we should’ve and could’ve won. We left something on the table that could’ve made our season maybe a little more fulfilling.”
Holton hasn’t been short on fulfilling seasons recently, as the Wildcats have qualified for the state tournament in seven of the past nine seasons and are not that far removed from a string of eight straight league titles.
That is the standard each HHS squad tries to live up to and that won’t change for this group as the team sets its sights high. Holliday noted the goal for the Wildcats is to always be state tournament bound in March, but the road to that point continues to get bumpier with an increasingly tough Big Seven League schedule.
“It can make you or break you and it can do both in the same week. Our Big Seven is as good top to bottom probably as it’s ever been since I’ve been here,” Holliday said. “You better play or you’re going to get beat. I think that proved itself last year through several of the games we had.”
Right away, Holton will get pushed in the season-opener on the road against Sabetha, while the team will follow that up a few games later against a traditionally strong Topeka Hayden team that has moved down to 4A-DII this season.
Those two contests will be good measuring sticks for the Wildcats early in the season, according to Holliday, and the coach said if his team can compete with those squads then that would be a good sign for the rest of the season.
Overall, Holliday noted what his team has to do to compete is pretty simple. The Wildcats will continue to present a patented pressure defense, but Holliday noted he has focused more on shooting in the first few weeks than ever before.
“We have to shoot the ball better. We have to manufacture more points. We have to find a way to score,” Holliday said. “We were not a good scoring team last year at all.”
“We have some kids who shoot it very well, but we have to get them the ball in spots where they can shoot it well and they have to be willing to take those shots when they do get in those spots,” Holliday said.
No player averaged more than eight points a game for Holton last season, but if players like Thompson can pick up production on the interior and the guards can score at a higher rate from beyond the three-point line, Holliday believes the offense could be in business.
The Wildcats aren’t looking at drastic changes, but rather increasing small amounts in a lot of areas to lead to more success this winter. The basic tenants of what Holton does will remain the same, as Holliday noted this group is once again team-oriented and dedicated to playing hard.
Fatigue may be an issue early as Holton tries to build some depth on its roster, but if the Wildcats keep pushing like they have been in practice then their coach expects them to deliver on a familiar prospect.
“I really believe this group’s going to have an opportunity to play in a state tournament,” Holliday said.
That path will start in Sabetha this coming Friday. Games will begin at 4:30 p.m.
Returning starters/letter winners:
Hayley Thompson, forward, sr.- 6.1 ppg, 6 rpg in 2014-2015
Courtney Boswell, guard, jr.- 7.7 ppg, 2.4 apg, 2.8 rpg, All-League in 2014-2015
Ashlyn Weilert, guard, jr.- 7 ppg, 2.2 spg in 2014-2015
Shay Tanking, guard, so.- 7.9 ppg, 2 rpg, 1.7 apg in 2014-2015
Mackenzie Moore, forward, sr.- 4.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg in 2014-2015
Quinn Holaday, forward, sr.
Sarah Sweet, guard, sr.