Warrior girls coming into their own after early start

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
With four players who started as freshmen now returning for their junior season, Peabody-Burns girls’ coach Kevin Washington feels his team may be coming of age after posting a 3-18 mark a year ago.

“Having gone through the fire early, maybe some of that will pay dividends now,” said Washington, who is in his third season at PBHS.

“But as good as our conference is, you just never know. It’s a dogfight every year.”

Washington will be missing only one significant contributor from last year’s team. Andrea Jones, an all-Heart of America League performer, is this season playing at Allen County Community College.

Beyond her, Washington has his other six top players returning-including Marie Unruh, one of those four freshman starters from two years ago. She led the Warriors in scoring that year but had to sit out last season because of an injury.

“We missed her last year,” Washington said. “She should make us a lot better.”

Complementing Unruh’s play will be classmate Gretchen Berns, who, at 6-2, may be the team’s rising star, both literally and figuratively.

“She potentially has the capabilities top be one of the best layers in the conference,” Washington said. “She needs to focus a little bit more on what she’s doing on a full-time basis, but she definitely has the skills to play at the next level.”

The other two junior starters from that former freshman foursome are Dana Windsor and Dali Jo Hammond. Joining them in the lineup will be Casey Berger, the team’s lone senior, who plays point guard.

Washington said he expects to bring in two or three sophomores off the bench for a rotation of about eight players. The leading candidates to fill those roles are Kelsey Nettleton and Kate Topham.

Washington said his greatest luxury this season is not having to play freshmen at the varsity level.

“This year, there’s nobody I have to bring up immediately,” he said. “The last two years I’ve had to fill in holes and plug in players who maybe weren’t ready to play on a varsity level in the HOA.

“This year, my freshmen have a good chance to get their feet wet and play JV and not have to worry about having to play (varsity) immediately.”

Washington isn’t ready to predict greatness from this year’s team, but he is confident about their ability to compete.

“I consider us a pretty dangerous team,” he said. “Nobody likes to play us. They know we’re a pretty physical team, pretty aggressive. We play hard.”

He does see some areas where the Warriors must improve.

“I consider us offensively challenged at times,” he said with a chuckle. “If we can learn how to score, and bring Marie back, we could finish in the top half of the conference.”

Washington sees Inman, Moundridge and Little River as the teams to beat in the HOA this season. Who comes next is anybody’s guess.

“I think there are six or seven of us after that who, depending on who’s playing well, can all fight it out from there,” he said.

Washington said his team hasn’t set specific goals this season.

“We’re a kind of game-by-game team right now,” he said. “We don’t want to set things too high, but the expectations are growing for the kids to win. We are expecting more out of them than in the past.

“Right now we’d like to finish in the top half of the HOA, and then see where that leads us going into sub-state.

“We’d like host a sub-state game at our place, and then see what happens from there,” he added.

“As that part of the season comes along, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You may get on a roll for three or four games and play your best basketball, and the next thing you know you’re in the state tournament.”

The Warriors open Friday against Hutchinson Trinity.

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