ew teams had more talent to replace last season than the South Nodaway girls basketball team, but the rebuild really wasn’t as much of a rebuild as it was a reloading.
Replacing players like Mallory McConkey, Meaghan McConkey and Sydney Harlan, the Longhorns had to thrust underclassmen into big roles, but those young players were able to keep the Longhorns extremely competitive and finish with a 13-13 record.
“A lot of them got valuable experience last year,” South Nodaway coach Aaron Murphy said. “That junior class and our lone senior (Haley Nielson), we are going to lean on them heavily going in.”
Now with their big sophomore class from a year ago becoming juniors, the Longhorns seem poised to make another run at a conference title.
“Every year at this time, I am very excited with a new season starting,” Murphy said. “Every team is different, even if you do return a lot, there are some differences in there. We return a lot. Thank goodness because we have nine girls out.”
Murphy isn’t worried about the low numbers, because that means everyone will get the playing time to develop.
“That is actually the perfect number right now because we need experience,” Murphy said. “With nine girls, you are going to get so many more reps than you would otherwise, so it has actually been to our benefit and I couldn’t ask for a better nine to represent our school and community.”
One of those talented juniors is point guard Kaylin LaMaster. She was given the keys to the Longhorn offense last season and excelled as she proved to be one of the deadliest shooters in the 275 Conference.
“I’m really excited,” LaMaster said. “A new season is always great. I’m excited to see what we can do and how far we can go this year.”
LaMaster was selected to the All-275 Conference Second Team.
“Hopefully I can keep shooting the three well and get my ball-handling and driving better,” LaMaster said.
South Nodaway also returns LaMaster’s running mate in the backcourt with junior Hannah Wilmes. Wilmes is complementary to LaMaster in that she can play both the point guard position and the wing so Murphy can give teams different looks at how to defend them.
“I feel like we each have to step up and fill bigger roles,” Wilmes said.
Another junior, Miya Wiederholt, leads the Longhorn frontcourt. Wiederholt grew throughout the season last year in her first chance at major playing time and will be counted on for more this season.
Murphy will have to replace a pair of starters with the graduations of Liz Turpin and Alex Buckles. They also must replace Dolores Holtman and Savannah Bennett who were key contributors off the bench.
The lone senior on the team is Haley Nielson, who will be counted on to be a leader along with the junior class.
This will be the final season for South Nodaway basketball as they will combine with Jefferson next season to form Platte Valley basketball. Knowing that it is the final year for Longhorn basketball, that leads to some big expectations.
“Always the team goal is to go to state,” LaMaster said. “But to win districts would be really good if we can make it past it.”
South Nodaway will play in next week’s Platte Valley Invitational where it will play Osborn on Monday at 7 p.m. in DeKalb.
“We may have our growing pains here and there, but I think we are going to have a resilient group that is going to be able to bounce back,” Murphy said. “We don’t want to be a team that teams look forward to playing for an easy win. We want to be known as a tough defensive team and a team that is going to go right at you.”