Photo: Junior Taylor Eaves looks to shoot with sophomore Vanessa Gould playing defense during Friday’s practice. Photos by Patti Wilk
Kaneland girls feel they can replace successful leaders
KANELAND—Last February’s season-ending regional loss to Plano hurt in more ways than one for Kaneland girls basketball.
After falling behind in the Burlington Central semifinal, Kaneland almost administered the comeback to end all comebacks before a last-ditch three-point try missed. To come back so far only to fall short smarted, along with the fact it marked the end for six seniors responsible for so much success and a regional title the year prior.
However, with the calendar turning to 2013-14, eighth-year coach Ernie Colombe has confidence the returning players can gel with the varsity newcomers to make things happen along the lines of the last two regular seasons.
“A great group of kids, we miss them on and off the court,” Colombe said. “We feel pretty strong about this group. They had a really good summer, and we had some players step up. I think the big positive to having all those seniors leave, they had an impact on the kids who stayed.”
With eight returning to the varsity ranks, Colombe was still working on a rotation that optimizes success.
“We’re still figuring that out. We’ve got some players that have stepped up. We certainly have some players we think will be in that rotation. We’re trying to figure out a few spots,” Colombe said.
Key returning components for the Lady Knights, who finished 15-11 in 2012-13, include personnel like senior center Kelly Wallner, sophomore forward Vanessa Gould, senior forward Marina Schaefer, along with forwards Brittany Kemp and Ally Van Bogaert, who saw a handful of minutes. Returning members of the backcourt include senior Caroline Heimerdinger, Amber Winquist-Bailey and Katie Brinkman.
“Caroline really stepped up and had a great summer and is playing real well right now. She had a lot of minutes last year and finished off real strong. Amber might be the most improved player we’ve had. She’s shooting threes and beating people off the dribble. She’s really stepped up for us and Vanessa has extended her range a bit, and she does a lot of things real well. Marina has always had a role with us and her role will be a bit bigger this year,” Colombe said.
In personnel like Wallner, Van Bogaert and Bailey Crimmins, Colombe has a pleasant problem of entering the season with bona fide height for the first time in ages.
“It’s nice to come into a season with a roster that has players with a ‘six’ (6 feet tall). We’ve got some size, and a couple of kids at 5-9, 5-10. One of our strengths hopefully will be rebounding, and we’ll able to do things we want to do on offense,” Colombe said.
Total newcomers to the KHS girls hoops varsity ranks include Crimmins in the frontcourt, along with sophomore guard Camri Conley, junior forward Taylor Eaves, junior guard Emily Grams and junior guard Rachel Miller.
A challenge for Kaneland will be how to supplant the sometimes-prolific scoring left behind by fearless shooters like Allyson O’Herron.
“I think honestly, we’re going to be scoring in different ways than we did last year. I think this group runs a little bit better. Collectively, we should be scoring more points in our fast break. Part of that is rebounding better,” Colombe said.
In terms of the Northern Illinois Big XII, Colombe eyes the landscape as a possible uphill challenge.
“Looking at what we’ve lost, we’re the only school in the conference not to return an all-conference player. Everyone has one. We think we’ve got players who have stepped up and can put us in the mix,” Colombe said.
Kaneland’s season begins on Thursday, Nov. 21, with a matchup vs. West Aurora. The Lady Knights then head to the IC Catholic Thanksgiving Tournament that begins on Saturday, Nov. 23, against Luther North. NIB-12 action commences on Friday, Dec. 6, at Sycamore.