After closing out the 2016-17 season at 12-14 overall and 3-9 in the CAC, Pilot Grove girls basketball coach Landon Daniel knew right then that better days were ahead for the Lady Tigers.
Although Pilot Grove lost three seniors from last year’s team, Daniel knew the Lady Tigers had the bulk of their nucleus return with three starters and seven returning letterwinners.
“Playing in the CAC is always tough and competitive but that’s why we joined this conference,” Daniel said. “We look to be more competitive this year and increase the amount of games we won from last year. While we lost three seniors, we will have one girl coming back from an meniscus tear last year, another girl who has played in the past for us, and one freshmen. All of these factors will make us a much better team, especially as the year goes on. The girls are really competitive and want to prove that we have what it takes to not only compete in districts but also in the conference.”
With only nine players out of the season, Daniel said his team doesn’t think about weaknesses but that other will look at their depth and say that it could be a weakness.
“Our girls have really bought in to the idea we can use the fact that we don’t have a lot of numbers to our advantage by really pushing each other to be in the best physical shape and work hard together to play better basketball,” Daniel said. “It’s really a special thing to watch how much they push each other in practice and the positive attitudes they bring every day.”
Nonetheless, the reality of it remains that with only four players off the bench how good can the Lady Tigers be once the CAC rolls around?
Daniel said the CAC is an elite conference in Class 1 and 2 every year.
“Every year it seems like we have at least one, it not more, district champions,” Daniel said. “This year will be no different. Glasgow returns their very talented post players and their guards got better as the year went on last year. Sturgeon did not lose anyone from last year’s team. Madison has one of the most talented backcourts in the conference that will return.
“Cairo is always competitive and plays at a fast pace with great shooters. New Franklin returns a lot of their core from last year and has both size and perimeter play. Slater should be better under their second year of a new coach. So again, it’s going to be a great conference. I really don’t think any one team will run the table and it’s possible even to see a two loss team win the conference. It will be that tough.”
While returning both the top scores from last year’s team, Daniel said that along with having girls return from injury and rejoin the team will really bolster the Lady Tigers on both sides of the floor. He added that Pilot Grove ended the year last year with only six players in the last two weeks of the season and districts.
“Having our sophomores get time playing down last year and then getting a whole year of varsity, too, really helped them develop into better players,” Daniel said. “We feel like we have a great scheme that fits our style and the girls have really bought into what we want to do each night on the floor.”
While losing approximately 18 ppg last year in scoring, the Lady Tigers will return one of the area’s best at the forward spot in junior Emily Schupp. While averaging 15.50 ppg and 9.3 rpg in 2016-17, Schupp also finished second only to teammate Reagan Walker in steals and assists while averaging 2.73 spg and 2.58 apg.
Daniel said Schupp’s athletic ability sets her apart and causes a lot of problems for other teams. “She has size and length on other team’s guard and the speed and quickness on the other team’s post players to be a huge matchup problem,” Daniel said.
Walker also returns at the point-guard position for the Lady Tigers. While averaging 10.12 ppg last year, Walker also led the team in assists at 5.12 apg and steals at 3.38 spg.
Daniel said this will be Walker’s third year starting at the point guard position. “She is our general on the floor and really gets the other girls involved on both sides of the floor,” Daniel said. “She really sets the tone for our team and will be a great leader that will want all the girls to be successful.”
With Schupp and Walker figure to be the main scorers this season for Pilot Grove, Daniel said junior Chloe Schlotzhauer is a jack of all trades for the Lady Tigers. While averaging 5.92 ppg and 7.31 rpg last year, Daniel said Schlotzhauer can play in the post but also can hit from outside and can even handle the ball if she has to. “She increased her ppg by five last year and we will need her again to be a scoring threat for us to make us even harder to guard,” Daniel said. “She has spent a lot of time in the gym this fall and we have high expectations for her this year and know that she will meet all of them.”
Senior Kaitlen Weekley also brings a big plus to the team coming back after sitting out last year, Daniel said. Daniel commented further that Weekley fits right back in where she left off and has greatly improved from her sophomore year. “She came out for softball this past fall and really showed how she has the athletic ability to compete every night but then great leadership skills and brings such a positive outlook for herself and other girls,” Daniel said.
Another player that Daniel will look to to start this season is sophomore Abby Schupp. While playing in 20 of the team’s 26 games last year, Daniel said Schupp could be a huge difference maker this year. “She is going to have to help take care of the ball this year more than she has in the past and her ability to score from mid-range and outside the three-point line is something we will need this year,” Daniel said.
Other players that will come off the bench this season for the Lady Tigers are junior Aryn Lorenz, sophomores Natalie Rentel and Reagan McFatrich and freshman Danae Lammers.
Daniel said Lorenz tore her meniscus last year and only played in seven games and it seemed to happened right when she was just starting to click.
“Aryn has worked really hard to get back to the physical condition we need her to be in,” Daniel said. “She has a pure shot and excels from outside the arc and it will be great to bring her off the bench when our offense needs a shot in the arm.”
As for Rentel, Daniel said she will be the Lady Tigers size off the bench. Listed at 5-6, Daniel said Rentel worked a lot this summer on her physicality and using her size to her advantage. “Having her come in and be in the middle of our offense or defense helps us against other teams with a size advantage over us and causes problems by allowing us to send other girls outside to create matchups in our favor,” Daniel said.
McFatrich will be the defensive stopper for Pilot Grove and is great one on one with another team’s best ballhandler or scorer.
“She has the athletic ability and determination to shut down other girls on the floor,” Daniel said. “She makes it her goal and understands her role as this person on our team.”
As the lone freshman on the team this season for the Lady Tigers, Daniel said he played Lammers down on junior high to give her the experience that she needs to be a better ball player. “She has made great strides in those games and in practice and will continue to help this team get better by pushing other girls to do the same.”
As for the goals of the team this season, Daniel said as they do every year they hope to become better basketball players and people as the year goes on. Basketball and sports, he can, can teach these girls and athletes in general so many life lessons and it would be a disservice to these girls if they didn’t strive, teach and experience those lessons in the season.
“We want to compete for districts and conference as we again do every year,” Daniel said.
Daniel said the motto of this year’s team is to give 100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time.
“This is where we all have to keep each other accountable and push each other which leads us to the next expectation of being coachable and great teammates to each other on and off the floor,” Daniel said.