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  • Val T.

Pioneer girls basketball preview: Berry to coach 5 players with previous varsity experience

BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC

Before he was a two-time state championship winning football coach, Adam Berry was the girls basketball coach at Pioneer.

But even after football beckoned, he remained involved with Pioneer girls basketball at the junior high level, coaching under the bright lights of Lucas Oil Stadium one week and in a sparsely populated middle school gym the next.

He returned to high school coaching last year on Jeff Brooke’s staff. When Brooke stepped down in April and assistant coach Jennifer Burns was hired as his replacement in May, Berry was going to stay on staff.

When Burns stepped down on Oct. 31 in the middle of the third week of practice, Berry taking over was seemingly a natural succession process. He was the most familiar with the players on hand. His hiring is pending school board approval. Coincidentally, the next school board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday just as Pioneer is playing against Clinton Central.

Berry went 2-20 in 2015-16 as the Pioneer girls coach. The team was coming off a one-win season the year before he arrived, and Pioneer increased their offensive scoring average by 12 points from the previous season.

“Back in 2015, the opportunity presented itself, and I took it,” Berry said. “And obviously that same season, the football job became open … and I decided to take that opportunity. But even from 2016 until now, I’ve still stayed involved with the program, whether it’s middle school, last year being JV coach. This year I was already contracted to be the JV coach under coach Burns. So I’m very familiar with the girls. Whether it was last year in JV or through middle school, I’ve coached almost all these girls that are on the current team.”

Berry acknowledged that it will be difficult to coach both football and girls basketball and is not committing to coaching girls basketball beyond this season. Former Pioneer girls and boys coach Dave McWherter is back on staff as Berry’s JV coach and varsity assistant.

“Pending school board, I’m committed for this season at least,” Berry said. “After the season, we’ll see. As you know, it’s hard to be a head coach for two major programs. So my commitment for now is for this season.”

He said his first order of business as interim coach is keeping the girls committed.

“Letting them the know that the season’s not over,” Berry said. “Whatever capacity I was helping with, there are still opportunities to be very successful this year.”

When putting together a practice plan, Berry said there are similarities to the two sports.

“Even in my first go-around, my mindset is very similar,” Berry said. “You do some individual stuff, some skill work, whatever that may be. You do some group work, just like I would in football. And then you get to your team aspect for both offense and defense. And so honestly, I would have the same type of mindset going into it on how to do that type of plan. But even being one year under coach Brooke, I learned a lot because he’s been around the game for a long time.”

Berry takes over a team that won 21 games and lost in the sectional final to North Miami, but he also takes over a roster that is missing Ashlynn Brooke.

She was the program’s first ever Indiana All-Star and Division I recruit who is now playing at Ball State after averaging 24 points per game for the Lady Panthers last year.

“Ashlynn did a great job running the offense, and I think she even led the team in assists,” Berry said. “Obviously, she could create her own shot at any time, and she could shoot from anywhere in the gym. It’s going to be a lot more balanced this year. … But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

With both Kylie Attinger and Brooklyn Borges deciding not to play and foreign exchange student Paula Collado Fernandez now at Grace College, that leaves junior guard Makenna Strycker as the leading returning scorer.

The other players with previous varsity experience are forwards Gracie Hopper and Julia McGrew, shooting guard Mia McKaig and versatile guard-forward Kynzie Hathaway.

Strycker averaged 5.1 points per game last year and has the most ballhandling experience of any player on the team.

“I coached her in eighth grade,” Berry said. “She’s a versatile guard. There were times I had her run the point back in eighth grade, and there were times I had her be the wing, and she just carried that over to her high school days as well. Seeing her in practice every day, she showed definite spurts of what she could do on the floor. But she didn’t necessarily have to do that when you have Ashlynn, when you have Paula, when you have Attinger inside. But she showed she can knock down an outside shot. I heard she had a great AAU circuit this year, and we’re looking for her to take that next step in her basketball career being an upperclassman, and she’s going to be a leader on the floor for us.”

Hopper and Casey Webb are the two seniors. Hopper is a returning starter while Webb is getting her first taste of varsity.

“This year as a senior, she’s already provided great leadership,” Berry said of Hopper. “She’s vocal in practice. Once again, it’s just building that confidence: ‘It’s OK to shoot the ball, Gracie.’ … If you’re open in my style and within your range, I want you to shoot the ball.”

McGrew, who scored the game-winning bucket at the buzzer to beat Wabash in last year’s sectional quarterfinals, is listed at 5-7 and can play both the wing and the post.

“Her mid-range shot is looking better,” Berry said. “But her strength probably for scoring the ball is probably down low. She’s going to be one of the hardest working girls on the floor any given night. … I think that game-winning shot at sectionals boosted her confidence a little bit.”

Berry gave McKaig “the green light” when she led last year’s JV in scoring and said she has a very quick release.

“You can tell she’s been around the game, and she just knows where to be on the floor to get open,” Berry said.

At 5-9, Hathaway is “long, tall and athletic” and has become more comfortable with the ball in her hands, according to Berry. She has already shown ability as a defender and rebounder.

“She just has a knack for rebounds and how to use her body to deflect and block shots,” Berry said. “Obviously, at the varsity level, that’s going to be more challenging, but so far this preseason, she’s shown she can get up and down the court.”

Sophomores Hannah Zeigler and Melia McIntire and freshmen Lois Layer, Jocelyn Kain and Khloe Weaver are newcomers who could also see playing time.

Zeigler is a 5-9 post player. Berry said Weaver had a great eighth grade season last year and described her as a “basketball junkie.”

Berry said there are 15 girls in the program.

Schedule changes

Due to the success of the volleyball team, the season opener was moved back to Tuesday night against Clinton Central. The Clinton Central game will be the first of four games in an eight-day span.

Games against Tri-County and Southwood were moved back to Jan. 6 and Jan. 25, respectively. Both of those teams won their Class 1A sectionals last year.

With those games being pushed back, the Lady Panthers will play nine games in 22 days from Jan. 4-25.

Class 2A, Sectional 36

Lewis Cass, North Miami, PIONEER, Wabash, Winamac

Schedule

Nov. 14 – vs. Clinton Central, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 17 – vs. Knox, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 18 – at Culver, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 21 – at Wabash, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 28-Dec. 2 – Cass County Tournament (field includes Logansport, Caston, Lewis Cass)

Dec. 7 – at North White, 7 p.m.

Dec. 9 – at LaPorte, 6:30 p.m.

Dec. 12 – vs. Caston, 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 15 – vs. LaVille, 6:30 p.m.

Dec. 16 – vs. Triton, 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 18-22 – at Indiana Kitchen Classic

Jan. 4 – at Frontier, 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 6 – vs. Tri-County, 12:30 p.m.

Jan. 9 – vs. Maconaquah, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 13 – at Argos, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 16 – at North Judson, 8 p.m.

Jan. 18 – at Peru, 7:45 p.m.

Jan. 19 – vs. West Central, 6 p.m.

Jan. 23 – at Winamac, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 25 – at Southwood, 7:45 p.m.

Jan. 30-Feb. 3 – Class 2A, Sectional 36 at North Miami


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