SIDNEY — Sidney and Russia played at midseason speed — maybe even late-season speed — in a season opener on Friday. While shooting and ball-handling couldn’t be described as midseason form, the fast-paced nonconference contest showed plenty of potential for both squads.
But it was Russia’s players and coaches who walked away with the most to be excited about. The new-look Raiders outraced a Sidney squad that’s made a name for itself with speed the last two years and picked up a 66-56 win.
Russia struggled to score consistently the last three years and was held to 35 or less points in 22 games in that time period.
But with several key players back from last season’s 16-10 squad and some changes by first-year coach Paul Bremigan, the Raiders are off to a hot start. They followed Friday’s win with a 57-30 win at Minster to improve to 2-0.
Bremigan, who coached the school’s boys squad for 31 years before retiring and coaching Troy’s boys from 2015 to 2019, took over the girls program earlier this year after Andy Timmerman resigned and moved to New Bremen.
Bremigan has the squad playing uptempo this year.
“We want to play a little faster than what they’re used to,” Bremigan said. “We want to get the ball down the floor. We did that well tonight. Sidney kind of forces you into that kind of tempo, and you kind of wonder, ‘Do we want to run with these guys?’
“But this early in the season, you want your kids to buy into what you’re telling them. We want them pushing it, and I thought it paid off tonight, especially in the third quarter.”
It was close in the first half. Russia went on a 9-2 run in the middle of the first quarter and led 15-11 heading into the second, but the Yellow Jackets went on a 10-2 run to take a 21-17 lead.
Russia battled back to tie it 27-27 at halftime, then kept the momentum going in the third quarter. The squad passed over Sidney’s full-court press to 6-foot-0 senior forward Ella Hoehne and 6-2 junior center Kate Sherman, who combined to score 14 points in the third.
The Raiders outscored Sidney 22-11 in the quarter to take a 49-38 lead. They pushed the advantage as high as 17 in the fourth before the Yellow Jackets made a late push.
Hoehne led Russia with a career-high 25 points while Sherman finished with 10.
“They’re going to be a big strength for us,” Bremigan said of Hoehne and Sherman. “They’re both tall, and Ella runs really well. She’s a good cross country runner, and she gets down the floor really quick. The girls did a nice job of getting her the ball.”
Junior guard Cece Borchers finished with 15, all but three of which came in the second half.
Those three are among key returnees. Other key returnees include 5-11 senior guard Sophie Francis, 5-7 junior guard Simone Puthoff and 5-7 junior guard Reese Goubeaux. Puthoff added 13 points on Friday.
Russia will wrap up a tough start on Tuesday. After facing Sidney on Friday and Minster on Saturday, the Raiders will travel to archrival and defending Division IV state champion Fort Loramie on Tuesday for a Shelby County Athletic League opener.
Bremigan said he was especially pleased with Friday’s performance considering most players had practiced for less than two weeks before Friday’s game. A chunk of the squad’s players also played for the school’s volleyball squad, which advanced to a regional semifinal.
“It’s a good start,” Bremigan said. “… I really didn’t know what to expect tonight. We’d only had two scrimmages, and we don’t scrimmage much in practice. I’m not real happy with all the turnovers we had, but Sidney is quick and athletic and can force (those).”
Before Jamal Foster took over at Sidney in 2019, the program had won two games the previous two seasons.
But in the last two seasons since Foster took over — and since standout guards Allie Stockton and Lexee Brewer moved up from middle school — the Yellow Jackets won Miami Valley League Valley Division titles each season and tallied 15 and 16 wins, respectively.
The biggest reason why the squad didn’t win overall MVL titles or any tournament game those two seasons was lack of size in the post.
The undersized Yellow Jackets struggled to compete with Tippecanoe (and at times Vandalia-Butler) in MVL contests due to a substantial height differential. The size differential also cost the squad in a close first-round tournament game against Butler in 2020 and a close first-round game against Beavercreek in February.
The height differential was a problem on Friday.
Regan Clark, a 6-0 junior forward, looks to give the Yellow Jackets a boost in the post after having transferred from Jackson Center.
But Clark alone couldn’t contain the duo of Hoehne and Sherman on Friday. Outside of Stockton, who is 5-10, Sidney doesn’t have a player over 5-7.
Russia has eight players 5-7 or taller.
To say the Raiders dominated at rebounding is an understatement.
“It takes all five people to rebound. It takes all five people to box out,” Foster said. “We’ve got to do a better job of playing against height like that, because that’s what we’re going see.
“We try to pressure everybody full-court and create a pace that’s conducive to our size. I think for the first half, (our girls) were battling and doing the things we needed. We couldn’t keep it up in the second half.”
The Yellow Jackets still have plenty to be excited about. Three key guards return in Stockton, Brewer and sophomore Kiara Hudgins. Aside from Clark, the squad has several newcomers who are expected to get significant playing time, including freshmen Larkyn Vordemark and Jordan Scully, who are considered by recruiting experts to be among the best in Southwest Ohio in their class.
But Stockton and Brewer are again expected to lead the charge. Stockton, who is receiving interest from Division I universities, averaged 16.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.5 steals per game last year. Brewer averaged 10.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 4.2 steals per game.
“Lexee and Allie have (started) since their freshman year. They’re battle-tested,” Foster said. “It’s a bit different, because now when you have a new crop of freshmen, you don’t have to teach everything you’ve taught before, because it can get handled on the court.
“(Stockton and Brewer) were stable tonight. We all need to play better, but overall, they came out and played hard. I think they’ll practice hard next week and get us ready for our next game.
Sidney’s next scheduled game is at 9 a.m. on Sunday at Cincinnati Sycamore High School. The Yellow Jackets are scheduled to face Wayne in the “Journey to the Tourney,” invitational tournament.
Brewer led Sidney with 17 points on Friday. Stockton scored 12 and Hudgins scored 10.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.