PORTSMOUTH — What happens when your all-around offensive (and defensive) ace graduates?
For the Notre Dame Lady Titans, you get more defensive.
That’s the mindset for the defending Southern Ohio Conference Division I and Southeast District Division IV girls basketball champion, as the Lady Titans — following the graduation of Southeast District Division IV Player of the Year Katie Detwiller — turn to their defense and perimeter play for continued success this season.
J.D. McKenzie, the Titans’ 10-year head coach, made it known that the Lady Titans — following last seasons’s stellar 24-2 campaign and second consecutive district championship — take a different approach to winning this year.
Notre Dame dominated opponents for a second straight undefeated SOC I title, as the Lady Titans have lost just three games in two years — two of them being regional semifinals and the other, at the time, an undefeated Division II Waynesville (34-27) club at last year’s Tackett’s Body Shop Shootout in Ironton.
“We have some people which can guard. I think right now the biggest thing is getting them into shape where they can guard for 32 minutes. At the beginning of the year last year, we were probably good for about three quarters. Then that stretched out as the season went. Right now, I don’t know how good we would be for a half. We want to get guarding full-court the whole way. That’s what we harp on. Making it tough on somebody for 32 minutes every night,” said McKenzie. “Our mindset is we don’t want anybody to ever look forward to having to play us.”
Most teams prefer to avoid Notre Dame, as the six-foot four-inch Detwiller was the Southeast District Division IV POY — averaging 16 points per game.
Notre Dame also graduated Clara Hash and Baylee Webb, but Detwiller was the most glaring of graduations — in terms of her scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking abilities.
Detwiller’s sister, six-foot junior Claire, and Lauren Campbell — a 5-9 senior — are expected to fill that void, but defense becomes so much more important.
“Losing Katie (Detwiller) is losing that anchor in the middle and that basket protector. You lose obviously the scoring of points, blocking of shots and rebounding the basketball. We’re not going to block as many shots or change as many shots, so we have to be better defensively on the perimeter,” said McKenzie. “Maybe take a few less chances in the half-court set than before, but I think the girls have the right mindset defensively.”
While the Lady Titans are indeed a veteran group, their experience is in their guard play — with first-team all-district Ava Hassel (5-5, jr.) and second-team all-district Taylor Schmidt (5-5, jr.) leading the way.
Hassel averaged 11.2 points per game as a sophomore, while Schmidt managed 8.3.
“They’ve been really good leadership-wise. Those two primarily handle the basketball, run the court, set the tone defensively and bring a lot of energy,” said McKenzie.
Two other guards, Isabella Cassidy (5-8, jr.) and Olivia Smith (5-6, sr.), made Special Mention all-Southeast District — as Claire Detwiller will be the tallest Titan on the team at six-foot.
Notre Dame sports five seniors, including 5-9 forward Paetyn Collins and 5-6 guard Cassie Schaefer, but again — it’s all about defense, defense, defense.
“Claire Detwiller, fundamentally, is one of the best defenders I’ve ever coached. She can guard all five spots on the court, brings a ton of energy, has a relentless attitude, plays her butt off. Then Olivia (Smith) is one of the best on-ball defenders I’ve seen and can make anybody have a nightmare night,” said McKenzie. “I think we’re going to be good defensively again like we have been in the past.”
That perimeter play also extends to the offensive end — with juniors Chloe Delabar (5-9) and Ashley Holtgrewe (5-6), freshmen Charlee Lansing (5-6), Annie Detwiller (6-1) and Kamryn Bradford (5-7), and sophomore Mollie Creech (5-5).
“You’re probably going to see us shoot more from the outside than we have in the past and attack the basket from the perimeter more than we have in the past. We’re going to get a lot of the points from our post players with our guards penetrating, getting into the paint and dropping it off to them. Whereas before, Katie would post up with her back to the basket and we’d toss it in to her,” said McKenzie. “Our philosophy hasn’t changed. It’s how we go about putting the ball in the bucket that will be different. We’re going to try to fly down the court offensively and pressure you defensively.”
The Lady Titans have, however, had to make a quick transition from their successful district champion volleyball season to the basketball floor.
Basketball began practice the week that many of these same Lady Titans took part in the regional volleyball tournament.
“I feel like we are improving every day, but it’s been a slow start with all the stuff we’re trying to get in. We’re trying to get in shape and get the volleyball legs out and get the basketball legs in. We’re implementing some new things we’re going to try this year. It’s going slowly. We kind of feel more pressure each day. Each day that goes by is one less day we have to get ready. With us opening up early this year, it’s kind of crunch time,” said McKenzie. “The biggest thing for us right now is staying healthy and everybody being active in practice.”
Especially when you are the SOC I favorite again — and facing improved teams in New Boston and Green with new entrants into the league like Ironton St. Joseph.
Notre Dame’s non-league slate of six games, three of which are part of one-day Saturday events, is difficult as well.
“There are a lot of teams that are improving and gunning for us in the conference and want to knock us off. I preach to the girls that we can’t take anybody lightly because we’re going to get everybody’s best shot every night. Then we’re trying to get quality opponents outside of the conference and testing us. We’re trying to play bigger, very good basketball schools in the Fairland Throwdown and the Ironton Shootout and the University of Rio Grande Shootout and in the bigger division of the SOC. It’s just preparing us for the tournament,” said McKenzie. “We’ve been really blessed the last few years to not lose very many games and knock off some big teams and go toe-to-toe with some of these powers. We don’t look at it as ‘poor little us’, but rather as somebody giving us a challenge and seeing if we can rise up to that.”
The Lady Titans are sure to encounter their share of challenges, but they are also eager to meet them — and earn new rewards.
“You can’t just wish it. The things that we’ve accomplished in the past was because those girls worked for them and earned them. I reminded our girls that we haven’t earned anything yet this year. Just because you wear Notre Dame on your uniform doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed this or that. You have to go earn it. We have to have the mindset that we go to work every day in practice. Every night when we have a game, that’s another work, but if you put forth your best effort, you’re going to get rewarded in the end,” said McKenzie. “We want to be competitive in the conference and have a chance to win it. Then the tournament is that one stage at a time. We have that mentality where we don’t overlook anybody and prepare for each team. That’s been successful for us and we won’t change that formula.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved