VERSAILLES — Having lost just one player from last year’s Midwest Athletic Conference championship squad, the Versailles girls basketball team has high expectations entering this season.
For the second year in a row, Versailles enters the season having only lost one player to graduation. This year that player is Meagan Winner, a strong defensive player who also provided leadership on and off the court.
But leadership won’t be in short supply for the Lady Tigers as they have nine seniors on this year’s roster — Rachel Kremer, Chloe Warvel, Amanda Winner, Olivia Schlater, Courtney Prenger, Kayla McEldowney, Brooke Pothast, Emily Harman and Katie Heckman.
“They’ve done a nice job staying together,” Versailles girls basketball coach Jacki Stonebraker said. “They’ve all kind of come together these last two years.”
Having only had one senior each of the past two seasons, this year’s crop of Lady Tigers has a lot of experience at the varsity level.
Juniors Lauren Bruns, Taylor Winner and Christa Puthoff also return to the varsity roster for Versailles. Two other juniors, Tami Groff and Shelby Hyre, moved up to the varsity level this year to round out the roster.
With 14 athletic players all capable of contributing at the varsity level, Versailles will play aggressively to wear down its opponents. On defense the Lady Tigers will run a full-court press and on offense they’re going to get up and down the court quickly.
“It’s probably going to be very beneficial to us to hopefully wear out the other team,” Stonebraker said.
The biggest challenge for Stonebraker will be finding the correct rotation for her players. With Versailles’ success in fall sports — most of the girls were on one of the cross country, golf or volleyball teams that all made state this year — the basketball team has had limited practice time together.
With limited practice time to sort things out and talent among all the players, Stonebraker said the starting lineup will be determined on a game-by-game basis.
“You can name all 14 players and say this is what they’re good at,” Stonebraker said.
At point guard, Warvel and Schlater both are recovering from ACL injuries. The Tigers’ top two point guards a year ago, they both suffered the injuries last season so Versailles has some experience working without its top ball handlers, which required the rest of the roster to share duties of bringing the ball up the court.
“We’ve kind of groomed everybody else,” Stonebraker said.
Hyre, one of the two new additions to the varsity squad, will help take over some of the point guard duties while Warvel and Schlater work their way back. And again other non-point guards will help take on those responsibilities.
“It was something that we got used to last year,” Stonebraker said. “And all our girls are good ball handlers.”
Guards also will include a mix of Bruns, Groff, Kremer, McEldowney, Pothast and Amanda Winner.
Harman, Heckman (a Mercyhurst University commit), Prenger, Puthoff and Taylor Winner will man the post.
“They’re all going to have an important role in the team,” Stonebraker said of her 14 varsity players.
Stonebraker said she hopes the inside presence of the Lady Tigers will be a strength this season. Versailles will look inside-outside and also has tall guards who can cause matchup problems for opponents.
Last year Versailles went 8-1 in MAC play, its lone loss coming to Marion Local, and shared the league championship with New Knoxville.
Teams like Marion, New Knoxville and Minster all will be strong, Stonebraker said, and will challenge Versailles in its quest to repeat as league champ.
“We put that expectation to be at the top this year, but it’s going to be tough,” she said. “We have to be ready to go.”
Versailles hasn’t talked about its goals for the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament yet, although those goals will be set high, also.
“Our goal right now is just to keep improving in these next 22 games,” Stonebraker said.
With last year’s basketball success and the success of fall sports, which saw half of the current basketball players win a state championship in volleyball, the Lady Tigers are hoping to keep going strong.
“Usually success breeds success so we hope to continue that,” Stonebraker said. “But it’s not handed to us.”