MINOOKA — It was an up-and-down year in 2011-12 for the Minooka girls basketball team.
It was a season in which the Indians were below .500 and only finished with a 7-7 Southwest Prairie Conference record. It also saw, however, the girls win their second consecutive regional title, which was something the program hadn’t done since 1980 before these last two seasons. So although the regular season wasn’t as strong for the Lady Indians, they finished off strong, and they look to three-peat a regional champions.
“The one thing about last year is that I think our girls played hard,” Minooka head coach Ray Liberatore said. “Record wise we didn’t do anything special, but I thought we finished out strong towards the end of the season.”
A big asset gone from last year is Ashley Clemmons, who led the Indians in scoring last season. The graduated Clemmons is going to be a big spot to fill for Minooka, especially since Clemmons brought not only productive scoring, but was also a leader for the Indians on the court.
“We had a nice duo with her and Sarah Placher,” Liberatore said. “We’re a little young inside this year and we’re going to have to have some players step up.”
The player Liberatore is looking forward to stepping into that role is Larissa McClemen, a senior who will try to fill in for the lost Clemmons. McClemen saw some playing time last year as a backup to Clemmons, so the pressure is on the senior to step up and have a big year for Minooka.
“I feel like I can use my speed to my advantage,” McClemen said. “I’m just going to go out there and do my best to try and get this team a win.”
Another tough loss from last year is AnnMarie Bachman, who started most of the games at point guard last season for the Indians. Her backup, current senior Sydney Lilly, is expected to step up into that role, hoping to produce as well as Bachman did last year.
“I’m just going to try and handle the ball a little more,” Lilly said. “We’re a running team, so I’m just going to try to get the ball up court.”
Minooka comes in a little shorthanded as well, as returning senior Sam Wurtz is still recovering from a knee injury she suffered over the summer. Wurtz has been a two-year varsity player for the Indians, and not having out there to begin the season will be tough for Minooka.
“She’s a really good three-point shooter, so she’s not going to have to come back and be like Derrick Rose,” Liberatore said. “It’s going to take some time for her to get back and the nice thing is when she gets back we’re going to even have more depth.”
Many younger players are poised to step up for this team this year. Players like senior Karli Karter, junior Erin Heide, and sophomore Kelly Carnagio are expected to see some considerable playing time, gaining experience throughout the year.
With a very stacked conference this year, the games are going to be even tougher for Minooka. Teams like Oswego, Oswego East and Plainfield East will all be vying for that SPC crown.
“It seemed for a while there in our conference you were going to either play a really tough game or an easy game,” Liberatore said. “This year it seems every game is going to be competitive. This might be the best the conference has ever been.”
Winning a conference title is one of the primary goals for the Indians this year as they look to bounce back from a rough regular season. If they can have a strong regular season, Liberatore said, it should build them up even better come playoff time.
“Every night we’re going to play good competition, which I think makes us more ready for the playoff run,” Liberatore said.
When it comes down to it, Minooka feels that they can once again repeat as regional champions, giving them three straight regional titles for the first time in the history of the program.
“One thing I’m happy with is Nate Spriggs is working with me. He has varsity coaching experience as well, so to have his presence is going to make us stronger,” Liberatore said. “You never know how the season will be until you start playing, but I’m excited for the season.”