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Maconaquah up for more battles, success in 2019-20 season

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LEAD FROM THE FRONT: Maconaquah junior Monica Moore (L) makes a move in the post while sophomore Kianna Sharp (R) looks to defend during a recent team session. Moore was not always a scoring threat last season but was always active on the boards, pulling in seven a night, an area the Braves will need to continue to be solid in as the team will be on the smaller side compared to several of their TRC opponents.
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SPOTLIGHT: Maconaquah sophomore Lilly Maple led the squad in scoring last season, amassing 413 during her freshman season, and will be the focal point of opposing defense this season. With Maple scoring nearly half the team’s 41 points-per-game average last year, the Braves will need more scoring options to keep teams honest throughout the year.
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ENERGY BUG: Several members of the Maconaquah girls’ basketball team put one another to the test with a lengthy live session before Tuesday night’s scrimmage at Madison-Grant. The Braves return six key members from the 2018-19 season and look to build off of last season’s 11-13 record.

BY TRENT SCOTT - tscott@perutribune.com

After a decade of watching as its girls’ basketball team searched for hope to cling on to, Maconaquah finally found what it was looking for in the 2018-19 season.

An 11-13 record, a 4-5 mark in TRC play and a sectional final appearance were all milestones hit by the Braves last season, done so with a freshman and sophomore core.

The same group of players are now sophomores and juniors with Maconaquah head coach PJ Hatcher excited to see what’s next for the team.

“It was huge,” Hatcher said on the team’s success in the 2018-19 season. “We’ve talked about laying a foundation, searching for who we are and we’ve come up with a motto of ‘All as one’ because this is the year we really play as one.

“You can see how hard these girls have worked, come together, seen what they’re capable of and have that experience under their belt. Now, it hopefully becomes second nature to be at that level of play again as they compete for their goals and aspirations.

“We’re happy with the way the girls are leading the program and the direction they’re taking it,” Hatcher added.

The returning six from the varsity lineup last season include juniors Madison Wilson, McKenna Wilson and Monica Moore alongside sophomores Lilly Maple, Alex Merritt and Averi Miller.

Maple was an immediate difference maker for the Braves, scoring 17 points-per-game as a freshman while hauling in five rebounds, three assists and four steals a night.

Merritt averaged eight points and Moore four, both pulling in seven rebounds a night while the rest of the squad from the 2018-19 campaign helped the team to average 41 points a game against 48 given up.

Hatcher believed the group, with the experience of playing for a county and sectional title, had their sights set even higher this season.

“They’re hungry,” Hatcher said about his returning core. “They wanted to play a scrimmage last week and are eager to pick up where they left off at.

“Every practice keeps stacking up as the girls get where they need to be. It’s not going to be complete at the start as there are things we’ve talked about that we’re trying to get to but we’re keeping it simplified, doing the fundamentals very well and then having some counters available.

“They want anything they can get,” Hatcher added. “They’re working hard in practice, improving every day and want to challenge anybody and everybody.”

Several others contributed at different times during the year, including four additional sophomores in Molly Nord, Emma Klepinger, Kianna Sharp and Ava Snyder, while the squad is rounded out by several new faces in Rafaela Rietz, Kaydence Jones Haleigh Cole, Courtney Stoll, Jana Riebandt and Madisyn Wibel, along with two transfer students in Anouk Gillies and Brianna Hubenthal, the latter averaging seven points and three rebounds at Caston last year as a sophomore.

“There are some new faces mixed in with some girls on the JV last year,” Hatcher noted. “Kianna can pull up from range pretty well, Courtney can do some inside and outside work, Emma has been out with a high ankle sprain but she’s rotated in as has Molly, who is a defensive specialist for us and someone we’ll throw in without hesitation to cause disruption.

“There’s a core group but it’s about how deep you can go. If girls need a minute or two here and there or depending on the situation, they’ll be able to give quality minutes on the floor and hopefully we can give them opportunities to continue growing.”

While a good rebounding team, averaging 32 in each outing last season, Maconaquah will be undersized on both ends of the floor, something Hatcher said the squad was aware of yet was not cowed by in any sense.

“Every girls seems like they have stepped up their toughness and grit,” Hatcher said. “We’ve let things go to an extent, making sure we’re not fouling or giving away free throws.

“There’s a lot of perseverance and determination in the girls. They’re going to use their quickness and stamina, which is something we’ve talked about before, as they battle in the paint as they have a lot of fight in them.”

Another area Hatcher said the team had focused a lot on was shooting in order to not only close the scoring gap from last season but to take some of the focus off of Maple, who averaged nearly half of the squad’s point total each evening.

“We need to get more shots up and encourage the girls to get more shots up at game speed,” Hatcher said. “We want the girls to find their range and then build off of that.

“We’ve spent sometimes half a practice shooting, speeding them up as they do so, making it uncomfortable now so that in a game it’s more comfortable to them. We’ve done a lot of finishing inside and outside, making moves around people and working in the pull-up game.

“People are going to be keying on Lilly but we have girls willing to step up and that can we can play off of,” Hatcher added.

Maconaquah’s win against Rochester was just the second TRC win the school had recorded since joining the conference, a gap that spanned 21 games from their first win over Peru in the 2015-16 season, along with being the first road conference win for the team.

The Braves finished just below the .500 mark at 4-5 in TRC play with Hatcher believing the girls were in a good position to continue their move up the ladder.

“There are several teams that are going to mix it up,” Hatcher said about the conference race. “Northfield has a good program with a lot of good players, Valley has been a perennial program for a number of years and North Miami went from strength to strength.

“These girls believe they can be there at the end and they’re going to work for it as those things don’t come easy. The second game of the season is at Manchester, who’s right in the mix, and the next three are also conference games.

“One game isn’t going to decide the conference; we just have to keep battling it out all the way though,” Hatcher added. “It’s a battle of attrition and we’ll see at the end who can accumulate the most wins in the end.

Two-time Class 3A State Champions Northwestern move out of Sectional No. 22 to Class 4A, though state runner-up Benton Central moves back into the sectional fold, as does Twin Lakes as hosts with Frankfort moved back to the south half of the state.

Maconaquah will still face its rugged opening stretch of games, this year with the bulk being on the road as, after the opener at home with Western Saturday, the team travels to Manchester the following Saturday, hosts Rochester on November 23 before consecutive road games at Tippecanoe Valley, A No. 8 Northfield, 4A No. 6 Northwestern, Eastern and defending 2A State Champions Oak Hill.

Hatcher said the girls were not willing to back down from any challenge and while results may not always go their way, they were ready to jump in to the new season.

“Every day, they just seem to emerge a little bit more and a little bit more,” Hatcher said. “It’s like an onion; the girls are peeling back more and more layers of what they can do.

“They believe in themselves, they’re finding out what works, seeing maybe what isn’t game ready and adapting. This is a team that wants to battle and is hungry to win; they have a desire, a will, a determination and work ethic that’s going to put them in a position to achieve things.

“I’m hoping they give every team on our schedule a battle, a taste of what they can do,” Hatcher added. “Every single game they look at is one they can compete in, do their best, play their game and whatever happens, happens.”