RUSSIA — The bulk of Fort Loramie and Russia’s girls basketball players have only been practicing for a little over two weeks, but the squads already look to be among the best in the Shelby County Athletic League.
The Redskins showed on Tuesday they’re still the SCAL favorite. After a close first half, Fort Loramie pulled away to a 51-35 victory over Russia at Clair C. Naveau Gymnasium.
Teams throughout the state were allowed to begin regular-season play on Friday and have been able to practice since Oct. 23. Few players for Russia (2-1) or Fort Loramie (2-0) have been practicing that long, though.
Half of the 14 players on Fort Loramie’s varsity roster either played volleyball or ran cross country. The school’s volleyball team’s season didn’t end until a regional semifinal on Nov. 5, and the cross country squad’s season didn’t end until two days later after the state meet.
“We had eight days of practice (as a full group) before our first game Friday at Miami East,” Fort Loramie coach Carla Siegel said. “We’re still working on our rotations and we’re not in basketball shape yet. They were in shape for volleyball and cross country (runners) were in shape for cross country, but this is completely different with all the sprinting and starting and stopping.”
The Redskins won a Division IV regional title last year and were slated to play in a state semifinal before COVID-19 derailed the tournament. The squad finished 26-0 and lost four players to graduation, including Marissa Meiring, who was a first team all-SCAL selection last year and the league’s player of the year in 2019.
The squad is also playing without junior forward Ava Sholtis, who suffered a major knee injury in the volleyball squad’s season opener.
While Fort Loramie doesn’t have as deep a rotation as last year, Siegel said she’s playing nine players this year, all but one of which are returnees.
“We’ve got a good nucleus back; we really do,” Siegel said. “We’re fortunate that we went 11 deep last year. We’ve got six back from that group, and that’s good experience. We’ve just got to work more right now on being more efficient with our passes, getting into our sets and finding the open person.”
Among the returning players is senior forward Dana Rose, who was voted the SCAL player of the year last season. She averaged 11.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game during regular season. Like most of the team’s players, she averaged only about 2.5 quarters of playing time due to the deep rotation — and frequent blowout wins.
Also returning is senior forward Kenzie Hoelscher, who averaged nine points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game last year. Hoelscher, who is a three-year letterwinner, was a second team all-SCAL selection last season.
Other returning letterwinners are senior guards Caitlyn Gasson and Corynn Heitkamp, senior forward Jadyn Puthoff and junior guard Colleen Brandewie. Aside from those six, junior guard Riley Heitkamp, junior guard Cara Meyer and senior forward Clara Gephart saw playing time on Tuesday. Meyer is the lone varsity newcomer of that group.
Fort Loramie displayed its scoring depth against the Raiders.
Rose was largely bottled up by Russia’s post players and managed three points while Hoelscher led the squad with 11 points, eight of which came in the fourth quarter. Puthoff scored 10 points, Heitkamp scored nine and Gasson scored eight.
The Redskins built an early 7-2 lead but Russia scored the last five points of the first quarter, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key by sophomore guard Reese Goubeaux at the buzzer that cut the gap to 7-6.
Fort Loramie extended its lead early in the second but Russia again tightened things. Russia sophomore forward Kate Sherman made a put-back at the buzzer that cut the gap to 20-16 at halftime.
“The first half, we just couldn’t get into any rhythm at all,” Siegel said. “We got into foul trouble early on, and only playing eight or nine people, that hurts.”
The Redskins used a full-court press for much of the second half which caused Russia to commit several turnovers. The Redskins took advantage and used a 15-4 scoring edge in the third to pull away. They pushed their lead to as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter.
“We had a good halftime talk about our adjustments, and I thought the girls did a great job with those in the fourth quarter,” Siegel said. “… I thought Kenzie came out and played really well and more aggressively in the second half. Caitlyn Gasson had a wonderful game from beginning to end; I can’t say enough about my point guard.”
While the loss isn’t what Russia coach Andy Timmerman was hoping for, he was pleased with the team’s effort.
It was a far improvement over the squad’s matchups with Fort Loramie last year. The Raiders, which finished 10-13, lost 71-15 in their first game against the Redskins and 79-18 in their second.
“We played pretty good except for the third quarter,” Timmerman said. “That third quarter, they clamped down their defense, and we didn’t handle it as well as I’d hoped. But we competed throughout, which I liked to see.”
Russia tied for third in the SCAL last year and looks to be a strong contender this year. The squad has seven letterwinners back from last season, including senior guard Ashley Scott, who was a second team all-SCAL selection after averaging 8.3 points per game.
Scoring was the problem for Russia last year. Aside from the losses to Fort Loramie, the Raiders didn’t allow more than 56 points in a game and held opponents under 40 points in 14 games.
This season, Timmerman is hoping improved scoring and even better defense will help the Raiders return to winning form.
“We’ve got a lot of depth and I think everyone we have defensively is just as good if not better than last year, and with a couple more scorers this year, we should be improved,” Timmerman said. “I like our personnel. With that depth, we can rotate more, and that definitely helps out. We have not necessarily had that in the past.”
Anchoring the squad in the post are 6-foot-0 sophomore Kate Sherman and 5-11 junior Ella Hoehne. Aside from Scott, senior guard Kendall Monnin, sophomore guard Cece Borchers, senior guard Katelyn Monnin and junior guard Sophie Francis return. Newcomers include sophomore guards Simone Puthoff and Goubeaux, who started on Tuesday.
All nine players played in at least three quarters on Tuesday, and most played in every quarter. Francis led the team with seven points while Goubeaux and Hoehne each scored six and Sherman and Kendall Monnin each scored five.
“Reese and (Sherman) are both showing a lot of improvement,” Timmerman said. “We’ve got a couple of sophomores that are going to get a little more playing time that will help us score offensively.”
Six of Russia’s nine varsity players also played for the school’s volleyball program, which lost in a regional final on Nov. 7. The limited practice didn’t prevent the squad from beating Franklin-Monroe and Arcanum in the Trojans’ opening weekend tournament last week.
“Friday night against F-M we struggled, even though we won,” Timmerman said. “We didn’t play our best game. But I thought we bounced back against a good Arcanum team on Saturday. They’ve got three solid players, and we executed defensively really, really well.
“Tonight, we competed really well for three quarters. I’m definitely happy with where we’re at. …Having a little time off will allow us to get some stuff organized. We’ve only been here two weeks with everybody, so that will be a good break to get us in the swing of things.”
“That game was very well played by everybody. All nine girls contributed and did a great job,” Siegel said. “We were able to score a lot and did a great job defensively holding them to 21.
“Tonight, holding Russia like this, I’m happy. I know it’s early, but I imagine Russia is one of the top teams in the County. Their two big post players and guards that they have, they’re going to be one of the top teams. For us to come here, play in their gym and get a 16-point win, I’m pleased.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.