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North Miami leaning on returning experience in 2019-20 season

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RINGLEADER: North Miami’s Bailey Keim (C) dribbles through the Clinton Central defense before dishing off a pass during last Thursday’s scrimmage. Keim is one of four starters returning for the Warriors this season and led the team in scoring and assists as a junior.
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THE GANG RETURNS: With four of five starters from the previous season returning, North Miami will look to build off consecutive 15-7 seasons and be a contender in the TRC during the 2019-20 girls’ basketball campaign. The Warriors return their top three scorers and rebounders in Bailey Keim, Hannah Hall and Maryann Freeman.
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DUPLICATE: North Miami freshman Ellie Musselman grabs a rebound before putting a shot during the team’s scrimmage against Clinton Central last week. Musselman is one of two freshman, alongside Molly Freeman, looking to grab the open position in the starting lineup ahead of the 2019-20 season opener at North White on Saturday.

BY TRENT SCOTT - tscott@perutribune.com

Most indicators pointed to a deck stacked against North Miami during the 2018-19 girls’ basketball season before practice ever began.

The Warriors starting front court from the previous season were all at different schools and early in the school year head coach Steve McClure had resigned his position.

Into the void came current head coach Lori Working, who took the six returning players and whipped the squad into fighting shape, matching the 15-7 record North Miami had from the previous season with a squad that at times ran only six players deep.

With four of the five starters returning for the 2019-20 season and the school now competing in Class A, the preseason No. 10 Warriors have a chance to do even more this campaign.

While still light on numbers, Working said efforts were being made to make sure the program continues to build from the ground up.

“Being in this spot for a second year, there’s a lot to absorb because we’ve done basketball camps with the Jr. High, tried to get the fifth and sixth-grade teams going and tried to turn this program to go in the right direction,” Working said. “We want kids to be more involved and to be working more as a unit.

“We want to be at a point where we’re going eight deep instead of worrying about who’s going to be my fifth. I want to be able to work the girls hard enough in practice that we have eight girls on the bench; if you’ve got eight girls to count on, you’re going to be successful.”

The top three scorers and rebounders return as seniors Bailey Keim (15-5), Hannah Hall (13-4) and Maryann Freeman (12-9) return, as does junior Taylor Tinney (5-3).

A pair of sophomores return as well in Shyloe Hunt and Jerzi Trigg, giving Working a solid foundation to build from this season.

“You’re always going to have good chemistry and leadership with those three,” Working said in reference to Keim, Hall and Freeman. “Taylor is someone we’re really looking to come on this year while we’ve got an open spot for our fifth person; while they’re young, Ellie (Musselman) and Molly (Freeman) will do a lot of good things as the season progresses.

“Shyloe has been battling some illness and hasn’t put in a lot of full practices but she’ll add some speed to the guards and, being a sophomore, I expect more out of her and look for her to make more contributions to our varsity as well.”

Musselman and Molly Freeman lead out a five-strong freshmen group which also includes Joey Witmeyer, Allison Bowman and Gabby Francis while Paulina Manroth and Macey Stockdale round out the squad.

Working said the group was still learning the ins-and-outs of the game but were expected to help carry the load at times this season.

“That’s what I like about this freshman class,” Working said about the group’s flexibility. “Even Allison, who came in during the JV quarter, can give some of our guards a breather.

“Ellie, Molly and even Joey can make some good decisions on the floor and in time that’s going to open up a lot for us. They can finish underneath the basket but right now, their nerves are getting to them and they’re kind of scared.

“I told them before the game that once you get to high school, no one has a label,” Working added. “If I put them out there, it’s because I have confidence that they can play and every game they play, they’re going to keep getting better.”

North Miami averaged just under 50 points-per-game last season but also allowed 45 points-per-game, often times being forced to juggle players due to foul trouble with the squad as thin as it was.

Working said the group had a chance to be more aggressive this season on the defensive end but needed to be smarter when they did so.

“In order to be a good defensive team, we have to be smart with our hands and stay out of foul trouble,” Working said. “We also have to talk and communicate a lot.

“We tell the girls in game situations they should be constantly talking, not me talking all the time. There needs to be constant talking out on the floor and that will make them a better team.”

It took a little time for the Warriors to get rolling in 2018, going 2-2 in the opening four games before going 12-1 from November 20 to January 9.

The squad went 1-4 down the stretch, however, losing key TRC games to Northfield, Maconaquah and Wabash to end the conference slate 5-4 before bowing out to eventual 2A State Champions Oak Hill in the sectional opener.

Fatigue started to catch up to the team late in the year, something Working said was a combination of factors but also something that would need to be paid attention to this season.

“That’s something I have to reevaluate with myself and my coaching staff,” Working said about the energy levels at the end of the 2018-19 season. “The wall we did hit started with injuries not allowing us to have a 5-on-5 at practice; we had to bring coaches in to practice against the girls.

“There was bad weather that hit, cancelling some games, along with illness. We had some games where girls only had one or two practices a week, which you’re going to have, but when you want to make a strive for the end of the season, you have to bring the energy because we’re focused on playing our best at sectional time.

“That’s when you want everyone gelling, not hitting the wall,” Working added.

The only tweak to the schedule for the 2019-20 season will see the game with Taylor moved to after the start of the new year.

By that point, North Miami will have half of its TRC slate completed and Working said she was hopeful the girls would be in a better position to challenge for the conference crown.

“There’s three or four teams that could be favored to be at the top of the TRC,” Working said. “It’s girls’ basketball in Indiana; it’s whoever wants it most.

“I’d love to be the favorite and go after it with these seniors. When I coached them in Jr. High, they won the RRC and I’d like to see our girls make a run for it.

“Going against these bigger schools, though, our goal is to make sure we have everyone healthy,” Working added. “We have 13 girls out for basketball; we need to have the ones who need to be there for every game out there this year.”

The change in class means a change in sectional with the Warriors joining Lakeland Christian Academy, Northfield, Southern Wells and Southwood in Sectional No. 53.

By that point, Working said the team needed to be playing at its peak in order to be a contender at the end of the season.

“Even though it’s Class A, you have to play your best ball,” Working said about the change in sectionals. “Anyone can make a run during the tournament if they’re playing their best ball.

“I would like to see a great year for our seniors, for them to stay healthy and be able to see them gel to make the final drive at the end. That’s what we all shoot for.”