BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – You’d think Holy Trinity Catholic’s girls basketball team would be a tire bunch of girls with the state volleyball tournament still closer than it appears in the rear-view mirror.
But Head Coach Tony Johnson said the Crusaders are in such good shape, the only hiccup is being short on practice time.
With eight of the 11 players on the roster of Class 1A volleyball semifinalists, Johnson said the team is game-ready as far as conditioning and confidence. It’s the Xs and Os that may need some work.
“It’ll be Christmas before we really get into seeing where we’re at,” he said Wednesday.
“I try to give them some time off. I wish I could give them a whole week off, but there isn’t a whole lot there. They finished last weekend and we play Central Lee Tuesday night.”
He said the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union has moved the volleyball schedule next year to allow a little more prep time for basketball, and in two years the state will be a full week between the end of the volleyball tournament and the start of fall basketball.
Personnel wise, Johnson knows who’s going to be on the floor.
Ashlynn Haas and Avery Hopper are the only returning starters from last year’s 15-7 team. The Crusaders are losing right at 25 points per game from seniors Emily Box and Taylor Boeding. Box was 16th in the state in Class 1A in total rebounds.
But the Crusaders will rely on Hopper and junior Claire Pothitakis, a Class 1A All-Tournament selection at the state volleyball tournament, to fill in on the boards.
“She’s shooting better and jumping better and has more confidence with the basketball,” he said of Pothitakis, who seemed to find a different altitude this volleyball season.
Johnson said the girls are short on experience inside with Box and Eryn Anderson, who also graduated last year, not in the mix.
“We’ll be young experience wise, but they were like that in volleyball and they were successful,” Johnson said.
“There was just no spot for them when you have four dominate seniors that we’re playing tons of minutes. We were only going seven or eight deep max unless it was a blowout. Most of the time it was seven and then Claire was my eight.”
Boeding, Mya Lawlor and Haas handled most of the back court duties last year. Boeding was fifth in the state in Class 1A in 3-pointers last year with 62 and averaged just over 11 points per outing. Haas connected on 37 of 99 from long range for a 37% clip and was just under 10 points per contest.
Johnson said Haas and Rauenbuehler will see the majority of time in the guard slots, but said the girls are in really good shape and can run up and down the floor, so there could be some surprises there.
Junior Bailey Hellweg played a lot of junior varsity last year, but Johnson said she’s developed into a good shooter and will see a lot of playing time this year. Newcomer Jordan Mueller is also a junior and Johnson hopes to have her in the post or on the blocks underneath.
He also said a couple of surprises could be sophomores Kassi Randolph and Raquel Schneider. Randolph is 5’7″ and has plays with a lot of confidence inside, and Schneider will also rotate in the 1 and 2 guard spots.
Johnson will also be slotting one freshman for playing time at the varsity level in 5’8″ Brooke Mueller.
The Crusaders will be a different team offensively from the inside/out strategy last year with Box controlling the lane on both sides of the floor and then kicking out to Haas and Boeding to shoot from the perimeter, he said.
“We’re gonna have to do some different stuff this year, run 5-out, or four out and one in,” he said. “I don’t want to give too much away, though.”
He said Van Buren and West Burlington should be the better teams in the Southeast Iowa Superconference this year. Preseason rankings have Van Buren 6th in the state’s Class 2A and West Burlington starts the season 13th in Class 3A.
“Van Buren should be the dominant team in the conference. They shouldn’t lose a game with all they’ve got coming back. They have six good seniors and really good junior. They’re deep,” Johnson said.
But he said said his philosophy hasn’t changed.
“I think we’ll be the same as we always are, try to get 50 points on offense and keep them to 49 on defense. At the beginning it’ll just be seeing where everyone is at.”
The Crusaders start the season Tuesday night at Central Lee and then follow that up a week later when they host Danville on Dec. 3.