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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Buying into the Team Concept

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands sophomore Hanna Buecker (20) goes up for a shot in a recent game against Scott. Buecker is one of 13 players to have contributed to the 4-2 start for the Ladybirds.
One thing has been clear within this program for a while and continues to be there this year.

Each one of the players is aligned with where the coaching staff of the Highlands Ladybirds basketball team wants to go and how to get there. That has shown on the stat sheets every game, especially during the current three-game winning streak that has Highlands 4-2 overall, 2-0 in 9th Region action and 1-0 in 36th District play.

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"We have been playing well as a team and we are improving together every day and working hard," said Emma Little, Highlands senior guard. "Our leadership and bonding have helped us on the court as we continue to grow as a team and do well."

Highlands has outscored opponents, 371-300 for an average of about 62-50. The Ladybirds have made 128-of-300 shots total for an average of 43 percent including 49-of-115 from three-point range for about the same percentage. They have also made 66-of-89 free throws for just more than 74 percent and have collected a total of 155 rebounds.

Highlands has out-rebounded its last two opponents. That was a question mark coming into the season without the height the Ladybirds have had in the post in recent years.

"We talk a lot about seeing the whole floor and being able to help the helper on defense," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "These last few games, we have done that very well and our team is starting to take pride in rebounding. They are starting to understand it starts in practice. You have to be accountable to yourself and your teammates in practice then carry that over to the games."

Little has provided one of many answers to question marks entering the season. She ranks fourth on the team with 45 points for an average of 7.5 a game.

Highlands returned starting sophomore guard Zoie Barth and senior forward Lauren Epperson from last year. Barth leads Highlands with 109 points for an average of 18.2 per game and Epperson is third at 46 points for an average of 7.7 per game. Barth has made 32-of-68 shots for 47 percent including half her three-point tries at 13-of-26 in addition to 32-of-35 free throws for 91 percent.

Senior Jenna Martin has fit right into the system scoring 93 points for an average of 15.5 per game. Martin has made 33-of-66 shots for 50 percent including 14-of-33 shots from three-point range for 42 percent and 13-of-15 free throws for 87 percent.

"I think the girls are seeing the benefits of playing with Jenna and Zoie as they draw a lot of attention," Richey said. "Jenna and Zoie are both unselfish and great passers. If you move and are open, they will get you the ball in a good spot to be successful."

Epperson, Barth and Martin have also stepped forward to lead the team in rebounding. Epperson has a team-high 40 for 6.7 per game with Barth and Martin grabbing 32 and 26 for averages of 5.3 and 4.3 per game respectively.

But some things don't show up on the stat sheets. The staff asked Little, junior Brooke Dill and sophomore Chloe Jansen to guard Conner's best player in sophomore guard Courtney Hurst. Hurst entered the game with 83 points for an average of 16.6 per game helping the Lady Cougars off to a 5-0 start. But they held Hurst to 2-of-9 from the field for five points.

Highlands two losses were to undefeated Louisville Sacred Heart (73-54) and Plainfield (Indiana) by a 61-55 count. Those two teams exposed weaknesses in the defensive scheme employed by the Ladybirds. Highlands has since made changes on that side of the ball and held opponents in the 30s twice during the winning streak and three times overall in its four victories.

"I always like to challenge our team early in the season," Richey said. "How else can you see what your team needs to work on and get better? They were two losses, but a loss isn't bad if you learn from it and grow. If Sacred Heart and Plainfield hadn't showed us deficiencies in defense and team rebounding, we wouldn't have been able to address those problems as quickly. Each game, other than the district seed games, are to learn what we need to work on so we can be prepared for the end of the year. It's a long year. We have a lot of things we need to continue to work on, but to this point, I think the kids are getting better and working hard."

The next opponent is Bishop Brossart (5-2) on Friday. Game time is 7:30 p.m. The Lady Mustangs have three players averaging double figures in senior guard Maddie Flaugher (85 points for 12.1 per game), sophomore Mariah Frommeyer (83 for 11.9) and senior guard Megan Seiter (79 for 11.3).

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