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With core group back, WHS girls aim to compete
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org, Staff Writer
Through 12 games last year, the Warwick girls basketball team held great promise.
Then without warning, it went downhill.
Their 9-3 start out of the gates was erased by a six-game skid and they finished up 11-11 and missed the playoffs.
And if you know the competitive fire that burns inside second-year coach Amy Derr, you know that she would rather have a snowball fight with Randy Johnson than do that again.
"It still sticks with me because I felt like we went into league play intimidated," Derr said. "That first game we had was Hempfield and we go to Hempfield and I felt like I was coaching a totally different (team), like, ‘Where are my girls?’ It was almost like Hempfield showed us some really hard core man-to-man defense and our girls just faltered. They just put their heads down and it was very hard coming out of being down. And I didn’t feel like I had those kids that just had that fighting spirit. This year I feel I have that. They want to win."
Of course, the environment is different for the Warwick girls this year too. Last year, Derr was a first-year coach — and Warwick’s third coach in three years — and the team was going through another learning process.
Fast-forward to the 2011-12 season and there is more familiarity with everyone having gone through a full season together.
"I feel like between the summer and pre-season," Derr said, "they have more consistency now, they’re used to our program, they know that we think the world of them and they know how hard we work (as coaches) and they know how hard we expect them to work."
It seems that the players have embraced that message. To this point, the Lady Warriors’ strong work ethic has been a hallmark in their practices and scrimmages.
"I love this group," Derr said. "I feel like they are a feisty bunch of kids and they’re working very hard and showing no fear. And they’re really pounding on each other, so I like that too. We talked about putting it all out there and they are."
The Lady Warriors graduated their leading scorer and a rebounding force from a year ago in Chloe Hayter (10.7 ppg), along with third-leading scorer Emily Osborne (7.5 ppg, 26 treys) and Emily Ansel.
But they bring what Derr calls a "core six" of players who saw significant minutes in 2010-11 — seniors Megan Hunt, Macaulay Soto and Bethany Zimmerman, and juniors Madi Derr, Meredith Michel and Bethany Zimmerman.
"I’d say the six girls that are going to play a lot were kids that got a lot of time last year as well," Derr said. "I look at them as seasoned players that they don’t get frazzled and that’s important in a game."
Soto is certainly a key piece of the puzzle as the WHS girls’ returning point guard. With the ball in her hands, the Lady Warriors are confident handling opponents’ pressure.
"Macaulay Soto, as far as I’m concerned, is one of, if not the best point guard in the league," Derr said. "I’ve called her my ‘Energizer Bunny’ from day one. She’s really the kid that can go a full game."
Hunt is the Lady Warriors’ leading returning scorer coming off a season in which she averaged 9.1 ppg and hit a team-best 36 treys. While she 5-foot-7 senior has proven to be a threat from the outside, Derr is hoping to see her exhibit other areas of her game.
"We told Megan last year about working on her drives," Derr said. "She shouldn’t just have one aspect of her game, that being a ‘three.’ She needs to work on driving. She’s not afraid to drive and she drives hard when she does."
Hunt and Madi Derr were in the starting five in both of Warwick’s scrimmages, but Michel is also in the mix in a three-player battle for two spots.
"Madi and Meredith Michel, between the two of them and Megan, we’ve got a nice mix of guards because Meredith is as scrappy and as feisty as they get," Derr said. "Their shots are looking great and they’re all pretty much dynamic that we’re not just planning on them shooting. Obviously, we want them to take it 1-on-1 when they can. … Even though Megan was our top scorer last year, again I just want them to fight it out. May the best girl get that starting spot. I feel like it needs to be that way and we need to express that to them. How else do you get kids to work for the win and work for the team if they’re not really fighting hard?"
With Hayter having moved on, 6-foot-0 Zimmerman (5.6 ppg) and 5-foot-11 Weidemoyer (1.5 ppg) will be counted on step up their games. Both girls played for the Warwick girls’ volleyball team in the fall and they have carried their skills over onto the basketball floor.
"I couldn’t ask for two better bigs underneath," Derr said. "Their timing for their jumping is perfect. They play big inside, they really are a presence in the paint and even against taller girls, I think they’re going to play with a lot of confidence."
While Derr likes the aggressiveness inside of Weidemoyer and Zimmerman, she is also pleased with their shooting touch around the key.
"I told everybody, ‘If you’re open, you shoot unless we have a reason to stall the game,’" Derr said. "If those situations exist, obviously we’re going to be telling them to hold it up. But I’m hoping to see us score more points. I’m hoping for us to just have better stats and obviously a better record than last year."
Although Warwick’s "core six" will obviously get a lot of playing time, others will also contribute on the floor this season, including juniors Bailey Ashworth, Cassidy Godber and Kelsey Martin, sophomores Morgan Haines, Kate Mobley and Vicki Smith, and freshman Alexa Mohler.
"Alexa Mohler has come in and she is going to see some varsity time," Derr said. "She’s a nice swing player because obviously she’s going to get her JV time, but she can play like a three and a four. It’s real versatile with her because she’s got a little height, she’s got a beautiful shot and she can play tough inside. Vicki Smith, she’s another kid playing a big inside, she is like a sponge when it comes to being taught things and she takes the constructive criticism great. Kate Mobley … I would say if I had to pick a kid who has improved the most since last year, she’s looking phenomenal. We’re small. We only have 15 total kids (on varsity and JV), so we like the idea of keeping it competitive and telling them every game could be a different lineup."
If all goes as the Lady Warriors hope, the competitive atmosphere which they are trying to produce will lead to wins. They tip things off this Friday when they travel to face back-yard rival Manheim Central. Overall, four of their first five games are away from the friendly confines of Warwick, but Derr is hopeful — and optimistic — that they have the ability to compete with the league’s top teams this winter.
"In league play (in 2010-11), we had a .500 season and I said to the girls this year, ‘I totally believe we’re better than a .500 team and they have to believe it now,’" Derr said. "I’m hoping to be as competitive a team in the L-L League as anybody. I am … I’m looking at Bethany, Macaulay and Megan, who are my only three seniors. They are fierce competitors and they certainly knew there is room for improvement. I’m hoping to see the team that is as fiercely competitive as I am. The coaching staff, we’ve all told them, ‘We don’t like to lose. Winning is more fun, girls.’ I really do hope (their hard work) is paying off because I feel like we’ve got a nice chemistry. We really do." More LADY WARRIORS, page B-8