Defending champs reload

What can they do for an encore? After going 24-3 last season and winning the state title – running the table as the top-ranked team in the state in the process – the Lovell Lady Bulldogs will be the odds-on favorite to win the title again.

Members of the Lovell Lady Bulldogs basketball team run a drill under the watchful eye of coach Chris Edwards (top) during practice Monday.

The Lady Bulldogs return four starters and again appear to have a strong, well-rounded squad. They’ll miss senior leader and leading scorer Karen Koritnik and her 14.5 points per game scoring average. Koritnik has moved on to the University of Wyoming as a track and field jumper, but the pieces are in place for another powerful team under second-year head coach Chris Edwards.

“Going into the season we have the same mentality,” Edwards said. “We have to be fundamentally sound. I’m really stressing to the girls that we have to take a tougher approach to it, that teams will come at you, knowing you’re the defending champions.

“We were kind of inexperienced coming into last year with only Karen and Alyssa (Geiser) having a lot of experience, but this year we bring back five quality seniors, two juniors and one sophomore that have varsity experience.”

Returning at the point is four-year starter Geiser, who Edwards said is the team catalyst both offensively and defensively. Geiser averaged 10.8 points, 3.3 assists and 3.2 steals per game a year ago.

“Alyssa has a solid understanding of the game, and her instincts really take over in tough positions. She solidifies what we can do. Defensively, she’s able to cause havoc whether we’re in a zone or man to man.

“She understands how to run the offense and is a very fluid shooter. She’s able to get the team going by distributing the basketball.”

Fellow senior Leanne Winterholler returns at the “two” or shooting guard position. She averaged 8.3 points and 3.7 assists per game last season.

“Leanne has a very good perimeter game and spent hours this summer improving her ball-handling so she can penetrate and finish at the basket,” Edwards said. “Defensively, her length gives us different options. She’s a tall, lanky guard but is quick enough to defend smaller guards. She and Alyssa complement each other very well. They understand and read each other.”

Edwards said the Lady Bulldogs will miss Koritnik at the three due to her physical play, scoring and ability to impact the game as a “big game player,” but junior Amanda Shumway (4.9 ppg) will step in as a force herself.

“Physically, she’s similar to what Karen was as a three guard,” the coach said. “She gets out in transition and is able to beat girls up and down the floor. She’s as solid a player as we have rebounding the ball. She has great tenacity.

“She has developed her mid-range to three-point shot and has a better overall offensive game.”

Returning at the four is senior Jodi Walker (5.1 ppg), who Edwards called a “solid, fundamental player.”

“Jodi doesn’t try to do too much out of her capabilities,” he said. “Defensively, she understands rotations really well and is able to get a lot of steals and deflections. She’s a good rebounder. I hope she will look to take her shot a little more and look to attack the rim.”

Returning at center is senior Erin Robertson, who Edwards said could be one of the elite centers in the state. Robertson led the team at 6.3 rebounds per game and averaged 6.1 points per contest.

“Erin is a tough girl to defend inside,” he said. “She has quick feet and is strong. She has a very soft touch from 15 feet in.

“She’s a solid anchor for us in the back of the defense, and she’s very agile and gets to a lot of passes, which allows us to get out in transition. She’s strong enough to defend bigger post players, too.”

Also seeing lot of varsity action this season will be three other players with varsity experience in junior Chelsey Ellis, who will provide “a lot of quality minutes at all guard positions, Edwards said, senior Miranda Griffis, an experienced wing who uses her quickness and strength to get to the basket, and sophomore Kim Shumway, who Edwards said is a strong, athletic player who spent a lot of time this summer working on her post game and “has developed some very fluid post moves that will benefit her.”

Vying for playing time at the guard positions will be juniors Dominique Allred, Kassidy Hetland and Shyann Wilske. Bonnie Rodriguez-Harback will back up at the center position and will improve as she gains experience, Edwards said.

Opening tournament

The Lady Bulldogs will compete in the annual Big Horn Basin Shootout in South Big Horn County this weekend. They open with Kemmerer Friday at 12:30 p.m. in Basin at Riverside High School, then on Saturday meet Wind River at 10:45 a.m. at Greybull High School and Burlington at 5:30 p.m. at the main Burlington gym.

The JVs play two games on Saturday: 9 a.m. against Big Piney at Greybull High School and 2:15 p.m. against Burlington at the old Burlington gym. The Lovell freshmen play Dubois Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at the old Greybull gym.

“We saw Kemmerer and Wind River twice last year, and they’re good teams to match up with from the south,” Edwards said. “It’s good to see what they’re going to have. Burlington has a solid program every year. They do everything right.”

Edwards’ coaching staff remains intact again this year: Dave Scheffler coaching the junior varsity and Bruce Morrison coaching the freshmen.

By David Peck