Pioneer girls basketball preview: Before she has a ‘Ball,’ Brooke to lead Lady Panthers as a senior
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Ashlynn Brooke ended the speculation as to where she was going to play next when she decided on Ball State in February.
Nine months later, it’s well known that she’s taking her talents to Muncie. But those in Royal Center can enjoy those talents for one more year.
The senior point guard on the Pioneer girls basketball team led the state in scoring at 25.9 points per game and also led the state with 98 made 3-pointers. She also averaged 3.9 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game.
A Division I prospect since before playing her first varsity game, she can sign her National Letter of Intent with Ball State during the NCAA fall signing period from Nov. 9-16.
With that out of the way, her senior season figures to be less stressful.
“I think a lot just because she doesn’t feel like she has to perform, the pressure of performing in and out every night,” Pioneer coach Jeff Brooke said when asked if the college decision was a burden off her shoulders. “And all eyes are on her, and the colleges are looking at her. … Now she can just go and … not have that other stresser on. … The pressure of where she’s going at the next level is off. She really likes Ball State. We think it’s a good fit for her. They think it’s a good fit, so we’re excited.”
Coach Brooke also reported that Ashlynn is healthy after being unable to play for the Junior All-Stars in early June due to a knee injury. She was back running in late June and returned to the gym for workouts in July.
But while Brooke is back, Hailey Cripe, Macee Baker, Kennedy Corn and Maggie Steffel graduated from a team that went 21-5 overall and a perfect 7-0 in winning the Hoosier North.
Cripe averaged 18.3 points per game and graduated as the leading scorer in school history.
So while there figures to be little doubt as to who Pioneer’s leading scorer will be, there is more mystery as to whom the No. 2 scorer will be.
“I think it will really be how defenses are going to play us and then who can step up in the moment in that night,” coach Brooke said. “If I had to guess, we’re going to have three players pretty close in what their points per game will be.”
In addition to Ashlynn Brooke, other seniors include Crystabelle Blickenstaff and Allison McGrew, and the team also welcomes in Spanish foreign exchange student Paula Fernandez.
McGrew is working through an injury, according to coach Brooke. Blickenstaff had an injury-marred 2021-22 season.
“Belle Blickenstaff is back, and she is playing with us,” coach Brooke said. “She’ll add a great dynamic as she’s quick and has good quickness on her feet and is able to play defense and just another solid player for us coming back.”
Scoring punch could come from junior forwards Kylie Attinger and Brooklyn Borges.
Attinger, listed at 5-8, could key the frontcourt.
“She reminds me a lot of Maddie Blickenstaff,” coach Brooke said, referencing a starting forward on Pioneer’s 2021 state championship team. “Able to maneuver her body and get in the right scoring position. I have seen her footwork develop from her freshman year even to this year of where she places and where she goes. And then just the aggressiveness of hitting the boards, I think you’re going to see a little different as you saw Maddie grow, she’s going to continue to get better at … I call it a ball shark. … Excited to see that rebounding presence that she’s going to bring, and I think you’re going to see some offense out of her as we run some pick-and-rolls and run some misdirections, and she’ll be able to get some flare screen releases is what I call them in the pick-and-roll.”
The 6-0 Borges is also a force defensively, ranking fourth on Pioneer’s all-time blocks list after two varsity seasons.
“Brooklyn struggled a little bit just accepting a different role,” coach Brooke said of Borges’ sophomore season. “I think she’s accepted that role. … She’ll have a little bit of a different one this year. She’s just going to have to step up. We’ve got to fill that gap with Hailey Cripe, that 18 points but not just that, just the grit and toughness that Hailey brought to the game.”
A third junior is Gracie Hopper, whom coach Brooke said improved over the summer and is part of a group of “good role players.”
Another returning starter is sophomore guard Makenna Strycker, a top defender who coach Brooke can see helping with attacking the basket off the dribble and not being solely reliant on her jumper offensively.
“I think as she continues to grow and mature, I think it’s not the speed,” coach Brooke said. “It’s just her knowledge of the game and how to use that speed. And I think as you saw her her freshman year, I think it was just raw athletic ability, and as she’s gained some wisdom over her freshman year, I think you’ll see … not wasting so much energy on just running around but being smart on when she attacks and when she doesn’t attack. Excited to see that maturity level in her.”
In addition to Strycker, Julia McGrew is part of the sophomore group that could get varsity minutes.
Fernandez looks “very smooth” on offense and is also an aggressive defensive player, according to coach Brooke.
She could be one of the players that could help forge an improved defensive identity. Pioneer’s defensive average jumped from 38 points per game in the state title season in 2021 to 45 last year.
“Brooklyn’s getting better,” coach Brooke said. “Kylie’s getting better. I think what you’ll see is to try to get that defensive average down, but it’s going to be a learning curve. Right now, our identity, I’ll let you know about eight or nine games in. It will be interesting just to say the least.”
Berry on the bench
Brooke said that Adam Berry has returned to the staff as the JV coach. Berry replaces Jennifer Burns, who will remain on staff as a volunteer varsity assistant. Jenna Hayes, who was last year’s varsity assistant, is the new coach at Peru.
Berry was the Pioneer coach in the 2015-16 season and is also the Pioneer football coach. Berry coached the Pioneer eighth-graders the last three years.
The Lady Panthers add sectional rival Wabash to the schedule on Nov. 22 and drop Lafayette Central Catholic. Pioneer also dropped the Twin Lakes Invitational and added the Indiana Kitchen Holiday Classic, an eight-team tournament that starts on Dec. 19 with the Lady Panthers hosting Frankfort. Pioneer will play either Winamac or Delphi on Dec. 20. The tournament will conclude with place-round games at Delphi on Dec. 22-23.
Also, Pioneer’s game against Clinton Central was moved from the regular season finale up to Nov. 15. That means the Lady Panthers will have at least a week between their regular season finale and their first sectional game.
The Southwood game scheduled for Nov. 8 was postponed on Wednesday. No makeup date has been set.
Nov. 5 – at Tri-County, noon
Nov. 8 – vs. Southwood, ppd. (no makeup date yet)
Nov. 15 – at Clinton Central, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 18 – at Knox, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 19 – vs. Culver, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 22 – vs. Wabash, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 30 – at Logansport (Cass County Invitational semifinal)
Dec. 3 – at Cass County Invitational at Logansport
Dec. 8 – vs. North White, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 10 – vs. LaPorte, 3:30 p.m.
Dec. 13 – at Caston, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 16 – at LaVille, 6:30 p.m.
Dec. 17 – at Triton, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 19 – vs. Frankfort, 6 p.m. (Indiana Kitchen Holiday Classic quarterfinal)
Dec. 20 – vs. Delphi or Winamac (Indiana Kitchen Holiday Classic)
Dec. 22-23 – Indiana Kitchen Holiday Classic at Delphi
Jan. 5 – vs. Frontier, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 10 – at Maconaquah, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 14 – vs. Argos, 2:30 p.m.
Jan. 17 – vs. North Judson, 8 p.m.
Jan. 19 – vs. Peru, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 20 – at West Central, 6 p.m.
Jan. 24 – vs. Winamac
Jan. 31-Feb. 4 – Class 2A, Sectional 36 at Lewis Cass
Class 2A, Sectional 36
Pioneer, Lewis Cass, North Miami, Wabash, Winamac