Pioneer girls basketball preview: After state title, Lady Panthers seek to rebound in Class 2A
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Pioneer has their memories of winning a Class 1A state title in February.
Actually, they have more than memories. In senior Hailey Cripe, junior Ashlynn Brooke and sophomore Brooklyn Borges, they have three players who played in last year’s 43-42 state championship game win over Loogootee.
Those three players are more then memories. They are living history personified.
They also have Macee Baker back. A 5-4 senior guard, Baker missed all of last season with a knee injury but started every game in 2019-20, a season in which Pioneer was the Class 1A state runner-up.
But they don’t have Olivia Brooke, Madison Blickenstaff and Mackenzie Walker, all of whom graduated. Olivia Brooke and Blickenstaff were the twin post players, and Walker was the defensive menace at guard who also helped with her ballhandling and mid-range jump shooting.
Without those three, coach Jeff Brooke is in the process of finding out who can complement Cripe, Ashlynn Brooke and Borges as they seek more excellence.
But there’s a twist. Pioneer is in Class 2A now after being automatically bumped up due to the IHSAA Success Factor.
Coach Brooke said the move up to Class 2A has not been a subject of much talk in practice as they prepare for the season, which begins against Tri-County on Saturday.
Rather, the talk and the work have centered more around skill development and the roles to which each player will have to adapt.
“What’s going to be our team identity this year and what that looks like is, as you know, you lose two great post players in Olivia and Maddy, and you’re looking at the next level and the next step as what we need to do,” coach Brooke said. “So when we look at those post players, we know they’re going to be raw, and they’re going to be younger with not a lot of experience, so you go back to the basics, the basic footwork, how you read how your defender is playing you. So we’ve been able to do that over the last couple of weeks well.
“And another thing about Olivia and Madison, they were really good interior passers, and we kind of took that for granted a little bit, so we’re just helping the new people who are going to step into that role. Hey, here’s how you read it. Here’s what you need to do.”
With new players learning to adjust, Cripe made an observation in practice.
“I feel like a freshman again, Coach,” Cripe told coach Brooke.
Cripe was referring to how she filled various roles three years ago – from point guard to power forward to post – and how she might have to do it again this year.
“I’m still going to look to Hailey for leadership this year,” coach Brooke said. “I’m still going to look to Hailey for scoring. Last year, she was the point guard or the two guard. That was really her responsibility. … Her freshman year, she was versatile. She would play the 1, she would play the 4, she would play the 5. So we moved her around quite a bit, and that’s probably what’s going to happen this year.”
In addition to Cripe and Baker, the Lady Panthers will have 5-4 guard Maggie Steffel and 5-10 forward Kennedy Corn to fill out the senior class.
Ashlynn Brooke, who made the game-winning basket in the 43-42 win over Loogootee in the state championship game on Feb. 27, will be ready for the start of the season. Knee injuries prevented her from starting each of the last two seasons with the team.
“Just that role of coming off the bench last year and that offensive spark was where she was at,” coach Brooke said. “Well, this year, you’re not coming off the bench. You’ll be starting. So I really want to see her be aggressive on the offensive end as well as get other people involved. She’s probably going to draw some good defenders, and being able to keep eyes up and find that open player and get them in a position where they can score and just that leadership role of running an offense and getting people in places where they can score the ball.”
Borges, who coach Brooke hopes to have back by the Nov. 19 game against Knox as she recovers from a high ankle sprain suffered during volleyball season, is the team’s tallest player at 6-0.
“Last year, she hung out on the perimeter a little bit and let the other two (Olivia Brooke and Madison Blickenstaff) clean up the boards, so Brooklyn’s going to really going to have to take the role of rebounding and be able to defend that inside post player and get the offense rolling by getting a good rebound and being able to find that outlet pass,” coach Brooke said.
Borges isn’t the only player dealing with an injury. Junior Crystabelle Blickenstaff will be out until January as she recovers from an injury suffered during volleyball season, according to coach Brooke.
Junior Mandee Weisenburger and sophomore Kylie Attinger could be among those who will help out in the frontcourt. Freshman Makenna Strycker is another newcomer who could provide depth as a ballhandler and shooter at guard as well as with “tenacity” on defense, as coach Brooke described it.
The Pioneer softball team won the Class 2A state title in June, which crept somewhat into summer basketball season. Coach Brooke, who is also Pioneer’s principal, did not mind the pleasant diversion at all.
On the other hand, Pioneer lost in the volleyball sectional for the first time since 2005, and that meant there was no delay to the start of basketball practice.
“We’re learning each day … and having a little extra time, that helps to teach a little more than what we were able to,” coach Brooke said. “I think you’ll see with Pioneer Lady Panther basketball, as the season progresses, we’re going to get better and better and better.”
PIONEER LADY PANTHERS SCHEDULE (JV/VARSITY)
Nov. 6 – vs. Tri-County, 11 a.m./12:30 p.m.
Nov. 9 – at Southwood, 6 p.m./7:30 p.m.
Nov. 19 – vs. Knox, 6 p.m./7:30 p.m.
Nov. 20 – at Culver, 6 p.m./7:30 p.m.
Nov. 23 – at Lafayette Central Catholic, 6 p.m./7:30 p.m.
Nov. 30-Dec. 4 – Cass County Tournament at Logansport (field includes Logansport, Caston, Lewis Cass)
Dec. 9 – at North White, 6 p.m./7:30 p.m.
Dec. 11 – at LaPorte, 2 p.m./3:30 p.m.
Dec. 14 – vs. Caston, 6 p.m./7:30 p.m.
Dec. 17 – vs. LaVille, 6:30 p.m. (varsity only)
Dec. 18 – vs. Triton, 6 p.m./7:30 p.m.
Dec. 28-29 – at Twin Lakes Invitational (field includes Mount Vernon (Fortville), Logansport, Clinton Prairie, Kankakee Valley, North White, Rochester, Twin Lakes)
Jan. 6 – at Frontier, 6 p.m./7:30 p.m.
Jan. 11 – vs. Maconaquah, 6 p.m./7:30 p.m.
Jan. 15 – at Argos, 1 p.m./2:30 p.m.
Jan. 18 – at North Judson, 6:30 p.m./8 p.m.
Jan. 20 – at Peru, 6:15 p.m./7:45 p.m.
Jan. 21 – vs. West Central, 6 p.m. (varsity only)
Jan. 25 – at Winamac, 6 p.m./7:30 p.m.
Jan. 27 – vs. Clinton Central, 6 p.m./7:30 p.m.
Feb. 1-5 – Class 2A, Sectional 37 at Lewis Cass
CLASS 2A, SECTIONAL 37
Carroll (Flora), Delphi, Lewis Cass, Manchester, Pioneer, Rochester, Wabash