BY JOHN BOHNENKAMP
DONNELLSON – It’s a learning curve for new Central Lee coach Jay Baldwin.
There’s also a learning curve for his players.
That’s why getting to open the season on Tuesday against Cardinal is so important.
“It’s good (to be getting a game),” Baldwin said. “We haven’t seen much of them in actual playing situations. We haven’t seen this team in action together. And with the new coaching staff, the kids are wondering what we’re going to be like in game situations. It’s a learning process on both sides.”
The Hawks return three starters from last season’s team that went 16-8 overall and 10-6 in the SEI Superconference South Division. Central Lee reached the Class 3A regional final before losing to Des Moines Christian.
They’ve been impressive so far for Baldwin, who was a boys assistant at Holy Trinity for the last four years. He also had a 10-year run as Holy Trinity’s girls coach.
“What I’ve seen so far is the work ethic is outstanding,” Baldwin said. “They want to get better and they’re working hard to do that.”
It’s an experienced team — eight of the 11 players on the roster are either juniors or seniors.
“They have a lot of the basics and fundamentals down, and we’re reinforcing that,” Baldwin said. “We can teach them, but we don’t have to get into the nitty-gritty stuff. They know. We don’t have to go into the minutiae of the stuff we do.”
It helps having Mya Merschman back. Merschman, a 6-foot-1 senior forward, was a second-team All-State selection by the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association and the Iowa Girls Coaches Association last season after averaging 25.3 points and 10.7 rebounds.
“She’s tall enough to play inside,” Baldwin said. “But she can handle the ball, and she can shoot — her range is unlimited.
“All of the great players I’ve been around, they’re ultra-competitive and they’re always trying to finish first in every drill. And that’s what a good leader does. They don’t take drills off. And she never takes a drill off.”
Makayla Morrison returns after a strong freshman season. The 5-6 guard was second on the team in scoring, averaging 8.7 points, and she was third on the team in rebounding.
“She’s going to be a stud,” Baldwin said. “She’s a good athlete. She does everything you ask, and she can do everything.”
Juniors Macy and Maura Watkins also return. Macy had 13 starts last season and played in 24 games, while Maura played in 16.
“They’re really good athletes,” Baldwin said. “They can handle the ball, they can jump, and they like to play defense. Watching them puts a smile on the coaches’ faces, when they do what they do defensively.”
Senior forward Ella Sanders made 21 starts last season and was third on the team in scoring.
“She’s a vocal leader,” Baldwin said. “She’s got some (shooting) range, but she might play some down low. We can do different things with her.”
Sophomore Mya Lampe will be one of the key players off the bench. She played in six varsity games last season.“She’s a really good outside shooter. She can be your zone-buster,” Baldwin said.
Kelsie Stewart, a 5-11 junior center, will provide frontcourt depth.
“She’s probably our tallest girl,” Baldwin said. “She’s got a lot of ability, we just have to harness it a little bit.”
Senior Lauren Schreck also will add to the frontcourt depth.
“She’ll be some help in the post,” Baldwin said. “She can play some defense.”
Sophomore Bailey Schwartz adds to the backcourt depth.
“She’s a very good physical ballplayer,” Baldwin said. “She can mix it up.”
Alivia Myhre, a junior transfer from Keokuk who averaged 8 points per game last season, is expected to be with the team by January.
“She’s going to help a lot,” Baldwin said.
Senior Amanda Gilpin also is back.
It’s also been a learning experience for Baldwin’s two assistants — Taylor Hickey and Tyler Bryant.
“They’re young, enthusiastic,” Baldwin said. “They’ve got some great ideas.”
Baldwin said he has talked to his team about the unpredictability of the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I said we might be preparing for one team, and then end up playing another, or maybe not playing for a week or two,” he said. “We just have to take everything day by day.”