By Rob Kiser
VERSAILLES — Versailles girls basketball coach Jacki Stonebraker understands where you are in week one is far less important than where you are in February and March.
So, while a number of key pieces are gone from last year’s Division III state championship team that finished 26-4, all Stonebraker has to do is look back at last year’s team — with nine seniors gone from a state runneup team the year before.
Yet, the Lady Tigers made history by winning their second state title.
But, Stonebraker would never say this is a similar situation.
“We have some pieces back,” she said. “But, this is a completely different team. We aren’t as a long (tall) a team, but we are a lot quicker. We have to replace about 85 percent of our scoring.”
Lauren Bruns, a 6-foot-1 guard who now plays volleyball for Dayton, averaged 12 points and five rebounds, to go with 72 steals and 95 assists.
Christa Puthoff, a 6-foot-2 post, averaged 12.0 points and 7.8 rebounds.
Taylor Winner averaged 6.5 points and 6.7 rebounds and had the block to seal the win in the state championship game.
And Shelby Hyre provided a solid floor game and had 66 assists a year ago.
The good news is the Lady Tigers have a number of key returners from a year ago.
In the backcourt, both 5-6 sophomore Kami McEldowney and 5-5 junior Camille Watren return.
McEldowney averaged 7.0 points with 45 steals and 87 assists — and scored 25 points in the state tournament.
Watren frustrated defenses with her lightning quickness, with 38 steals and 54 assists.
“We call them the little gnats,” Stonebraker said. “Their strengths are different. One is offense, the other is defense. But, they are both good at everything.”
Others who will see action at the guard spots are 5-5 senior Kristin Langston, 5-8 senior Logan Shimp, 5-8 junior Brynna Blakeley, 5-7 junior Emily Langenkamp,5-8 junior Kami Ording, 5-7 junior Clair Schmitmeyer and 5-8 sophomore Ellen Peters.
“Clair (Schmitmeyer) is really quick on her feet,” Stonebraker said. “Kami Ording has really come one. Brynna (Blakeley) is real smart offensively. Kristin (Langston) is just real solid out there. Ellen (Peters) has really been coming on. Emily and Logan have been playing well. I think we are going to have to play at lot of people.”
Which is where last season helps out.
“I think the biggest thing with winning the state title for the young kids is you are practicing for another five or six weeks that other teams aren’t,” Stonebraker said.
Inside, 5-8 senior Lauren Monnin returns.
Monnin averaged 7.6 points last year and grabbed 90 rebounds.
“I think the experience she got last year in the tournament run has to have helped her,” Stonebraker said.
Joining her inside will be 6-2 sophomore Danielle Winner, 5-9 senior Haley Winner and 5-8 senior Emily Marshal.
“When Christa (Puthoff) got in foul trouble last year in the tournament, we were able to put Danielle (Winner) in and she didn’t miss a beat,” Stonebraker said. “She is long. Haley (Winner) get up and down the floor so well. She is a Winner so you know she can play defense. Emily (Marshal) is doing a nice job.”
Stonebraker hopes the Lady Tigers can use their quickness to their advantage.
“I hope to play uptempo,” she said. “That is not my style. I like to pound the ball inside. But, this is a different. We are going to pressure and come out and attack with our quickness more than last year.”
As always, the Midwest Athletic Conference will be a challenge.
“I don’t even know where to start,” she said. “I think New Knoxville is going to be strong again. Minster returns a strong group and Fort Recovery will be strong again. Marion Local is always going to give us fits and Parkway always plays us tough.”
Stonebraker is just getting the volleyball players back after a trip to the regional semifinals.
“It is about the normal time,” she said. “We have had them for four practices. We will have a scrimmage, a couple more practices and start the season.”
Stonebraker knows it may take awhile to find the perfect mix.
“We are going to have to find the right combination,” she said. “It may not be pretty out there at times. But, we are going to get there and by game 22, be ready to make a tournament run.”
Which is when the games matter most — and what the best teams find a way to do.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.