By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
Bart Wiedman believes his program has reached a point that his team should only reload rather than rebuild.
And why not?
His St. Anthony Lady Bulldogs have won 60 games over the past three seasons, three straight regional championships and the National Trail Conference regular season and tournament titles two of the past three years.
But gone are six seniors that accounted for nearly 70 percent of the scoring and 50 percent of the rebounding last season. And stepping in will be several players without much varsity experience.
“We should never have to rebuild,” said Wiedman, who enters his sixth year at St. Anthony with a career record of 87-65. “It’s the first thing we talked about at our first practice. We have new people stepping up and filling in spots, but we should be just as competitive. That’s why I’m always looking forward to a new season, new challenges and new excitement.”
But he does realize the void that was left by the graduation of Emily McDevitt, Abby Brown, Maddie Schuette, Kyla Burton, Hunter Niebrugge and Emma Richards.
“They all came up through the ranks together and knew the ins and outs of our program,” Wiedman noted. “But now we’re moving new kids into those spots and they’ve responded very well.
“I know some of these sophomores and juniors played sparingly on the varsity, but I’m excited to see how they adjust,” he added. “They just need to keep their confidence to stay up even when they make mistakes. But I think we’ll be fine.”
St. Anthony is known for its tenacious man-to-man defense and rather methodical offensive approach. But with some added quickness, opponents might have to prepare for a few new wrinkles
“For the first time in a while, we have some quickness,” Wiedman said. “We have girls that can get out and push the ball a little. Plus, we might be able to do a few different things defensively. There are some new schemes we haven’t tried before. That quickness gives us some flexibility and, hopefully, our defense will help us get some easy baskets.”
Scoring on a consistent basis is a concern. Last year’s squad made more 3-pointers than any of Wiedman’s previous teams – a trend he hopes will continue.
“When you can hit that outside shot, it opens up your inside game,” Wiedman explained. “We need to develop more shooters that aren’t gun shy. If the girls have a good shot, I expect them to let it fly. We just have to avoid those long scoring droughts.”
Four of the starting positions seem to be filled, but Wiedman has not settled on a fifth starter.
Sophomore Abby Weis returns as the team’s point guard. She was the team’s leading scorer, averaging 8 points per game. Despite being only a freshman, she was selected first team all-conference.
“She has all the tools to be an all-state player,” Wiedman said. “We didn’t see her full potential last year. She knows the game so well. Her basketball knowledge is supreme.
“We’ll need her to take on a bigger and different role this year,” the coach added. “Last year, she was a facilitator; getting our offense moving and getting the ball to the right spot. This year she needs to be more of a scorer.”
From a scoring standpoint, Wiedman figures Weis and Abbie Schmidt, the only senior on the roster, to be the team’s one-two punch. Schmidt, a 5’11” post player, averaged 5 points and 5 rebounds a year ago.
“We’re looking for big minutes from Schmidty,” the coach noted. “She really stepped up her game this summer. If she can stay on the floor and out of foul trouble, she could be a 15 (points) and 10 (rebounds) player for us. That would be huge.”
Sophomore Clare McHugh will start at guard alongside Weis. Wiedman hopes she can adjust to the point guard position, allowing Weis to move to the wing – or scoring – guard spot.
“Clare has really come along,” the coach said. “She is very quick and really good on defense. If she can run the point and we move Abby to the wing, that will just make us tougher.”
Olivia Clausius, a 5’10” junior, will also play on the inside for the Lady Bulldogs.
“She’s got really good post moves. Sometimes we just need to keep her motor running,” Wiedman said. “We’ll rely on her to play big minutes. She and Schmidty have to stay on the floor and out of foul trouble.”
Five other girls are battling for the final starting position, but each one figures to see a lot of playing time during the season.
Juniors Maryann Saba and Keri McGuire are both small guards that provide depth at that position.
Sophomores Shea Kinkelaar, Sydney Gibson and Meg Richards provide depth and flexibility. Wiedman said all three can play guard or inside.
“I can move them around, which again, just gives us more options,” the coach said. “It’s been challenging for them because they’ve had to learn two positions.”
Once again, St. Anthony will face a tough schedule. After opening at home against Dieterich, the Lady Bulldogs will compete in the Taylorville Thanksgiving Tournament. They will also participate in the Mattoon Christmas Tournament where they will be the smallest team in the field; and face good non-conference teams like Newton, Effingham and Teutopolis.
“We take pride in playing a tough schedule every single year,” Wiedman said. “We might get thumped once in a while, but we learn from those games and it helps us at the end of the season.”
Wiedman thinks Altamont is the team to beat in the National Trail Conference.
“They will be crazy tough,” he said. “Every starter is back from a team that won the regional last year. Plus, Brownstown-St. Elmo should be pretty good. They have some good younger kids coming in.”
It’s the first time in a few years St. Anthony has not been one of the favored teams.
“It’s kind of nice being the underdog. That hasn’t happened to us for a few years,” Wiedman noted. “But I still think we can compete in the conference.”
With such good depth this year, practices have been very competitive and challenging.
“Our returning players know what it’s like to get pounded on every single day in practice,” the coach said. “We work the girls hard. They’ve been through the grind, but they know what it takes to be successful.
“They see we’ve won three straight regional championships and they want to be a part of that.”