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  • Val T.

Rochester girls basketball preview: Burrus stressing low turnovers, rebounding


Sports Editor, RTC

Rochester first-year girls basketball coach Joel Burrus has two goals for his team.

He wants 10 or fewer turnovers per game, and he wants the opponent to have no more than five offensive rebounds per game.

“They were over that in a lot of games, and they won games last year, but our team is different,” Burrus said.

Part of what is different is the zone defense he has installed.

Installing the zone was a focus for all the players over the summer. Burrus’ Trinity Greenlawn boys team was No. 1 in the state in defensive scoring average each of the last four years.

He said it is imperative that the Rochester girls guard at an “elite level.”

He calls the two players on top of the zone “tops” and said they need to play with their “hair on fire” and they need to be in the best shape of their life.

He said every possession will be heavily contested, and simply hoping that the opponent misses is not acceptable. He emphasizes closing out on shooters.

But Burrus also wants to be known for his motion offense patterned after the Villanova offense that former men’s coach Jay Wright ran.

“Really, my big thing is getting our system in,” Burrus said. “Our zone, I wouldn’t say it’s easy to learn just from the standpoint of our shifts, the effort we expect, we had to get that going right away. And then obviously, we’re doing a lot of different things too. I’m more of a motion guy. If a set breaks down, teaching the girls how to play in motion – keeping the floor spaced, ball needs to be moving, trying to get ball reversals.”

The nucleus of the team could be its senior guards in Emma Howdeshell, Kallie Watson and Rily Holloway. When Howdeshell steps on the floor against North Judson Thursday, it will be her first basketball game in almost a year after she tore her ACL in last year’s Caston game; however, she did have a softball season last spring in which she was among the state leaders in hitting at .631 and stole a team-high 21 bases.

So while there is little doubt about her health, Burrus also said that Howdeshell needs to be in top physical shape.

“I think there have been times where you’ve got to relearn things,” Burrus said. “There are so many parts to basketball, and I think there are some things that maybe during the summer she tried to do, and she’s like, ‘I’ve got to relearn how to do this.’ And we talked to her a lot about playing off two feet, staying under control. … She’s doing a good job of that. Getting her in basketball shape, we’re still in that process. … A kid coming off a knee injury like that, it’s just as much mental as it is physical.”

Watson’s emergence as a ballhandler might have something to do with Howdeshell moving off the ball. Watson shared ballhandling duties with Kami Burkett after Howdeshell tore her ACL. But now Watson is dealing with her own injury, a sprained ankle suffered in an intrasquad scrimmage. Burrus said Watson’s prognosis for recovery is “pretty good.”

Holloway, who transferred from Tippecanoe Valley in the summer of 2021, led the Lady Zs with 46 made 3-pointers last year. Only Watson (26) even made half as many. Burrus wants Holloway to expand her game further, and he’s been impressed with Holloway’s work ethic – he cannot recall Holloway missing a basketball workout while also starting at libero on the volleyball team – in that effort.

“Rily would tell you that since I’ve got here, that’s been a big thing that we’ve talked about,” Burrus said. “I always say, ‘How many 2s did you hit last year, Holloway?’ She didn’t hit very many 2s. So now the scouting report on her is hug her on the 3-point line, right? Now we’ve worked all summer on her ripping the ball through and driving to the basket, and we saw that improvement, and we’re seeing it in practice too. She’s doing a good job, and I know that’s hard as a senior. You’ve gone your whole time of being basically a set shooter. Now it’s, ‘OK, Holloway, we need more out of you.’”

Sydney Haughs is another senior who could take on any role that Burrus asks of her.

“I would say that Sydney Haughs is our glue player,” Burrus said. “She is going to have multiple roles from the standpoint of defensively, she’s going to have to anchor our defense and our zone. We’re going to ask her rebound, and she’s going to be kind of undersized. … She works extremely hard, and she’s not somebody that demands, ‘Hey, Coach, I can hit a bunch of shots.’”

The other seniors are frontcourt players Maddie Heinzmann and Elizabeth Weaver.

There are also six sophomores on the varsity roster, two of which figure to be full-time varsity players: guard Rylee Clevenger and forward Ella McCarter.

Clevenger is a point guard who could handle the ball more if Watson is injured.

“She’s a very smart kid,” Burrus said. “She knows basketball very well. She’s one of our higher basketball IQ kids. But sometimes, because of that and her youth, she overthinks things … to where I’m like, ‘Clevenger, just play.’ And I think with experience, that’s going to come.”

McCarter appeared in seven varsity games last year and will fill a wing role this year.

“She works so hard,” Burrus said. “She has got a 110 percent motor at all times, but getting her to slow that down up top mentally sometimes, again that’s part of the youth. I would say her offensive game has improved immensely. She put in a lot of time this summer, and in the fall, she was one of those kids that was here all the time. She was at all of our workouts. … We look at her that she’s going to be the person that has a lot of mismatches. … We can pull her out on the wing. She’s 5-9, 5-10. She can get to the basket. She’s athletic, but she can also shoot the basketball. Ella’s got a lot of potential to be a really good player here.”

Another sophomore who could see minutes is Darah Strasser, and Burrus sees Strasser as a fit for his peculiar zone defense.

“She’s just a flat-out athlete,” Burrus said. “Now we’re trying to make her into a basketball player, which is a different dynamic.”

In his previous coaching stops with the Lakeland Christian and Trinity Greenlawn boys programs and the Caston girls program, Burrus said his teams were not expected to win and were in various stages of building or rebuilding.

Now he’s taken over a program that won 16 games last year and a program that has posted three straight winning seasons. And he’s taken over a program with six seniors.

But it’s also true that Tippecanoe Valley returns four starters from a team that beat them last year on their way to 17 wins and a Three Rivers Conference title.

Valley, Bremen, Knox, Culver Academy and John Glenn, the other five teams in Rochester’s sectional, all won at least 13 games last year.

So Burrus just might be an underdog again.

“How do I feel being an underdog?” Burrus said. “Probably my whole head coaching career, I’ve been an underdog. Last year, I had a good team at Trinity, and we had to go play one of the better Triton teams that they’ve had in the past 15 years there. So I’ve embraced that multiple times in my coaching career.

“I tell kids all the time, ‘Throughout the season, no matter what happens, are you playing your best basketball when it comes to tournament time?’”


Rochester has added a game with sectional rival Culver Academy for Jan. 18. They dropped Goshen to make room.

They also will play in the Twin Lakes Invitational on Dec. 27-28. Rochester will open with defending 1A regional champion North White, and the tournament also consists of 4A powers like Crown Point, Westfield, Kankakee Valley and Mount Vernon (Fortville) as well as two-time 2A defending sectional champion Clinton Prairie.

Rochester will play on three consecutive Wednesday nights in January.

Start time for varsity games listed below account for JV games, which will last two quarters due to Rochester’s lack of numbers.

Nov. 3 – at North Judson, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 5 – vs. Caston, 7 p.m.

Nov. 9 – at Northwestern, 6:30 p.m.

Nov. 12 – at NorthWood, 1 p.m.

Nov. 17 – vs. Peru, 7:15 p.m.

Nov. 19 – vs. Maconaquah, 7:15 p.m.

Nov. 22 – vs. Lewis Cass, 7 p.m.

Nov. 26 – at Winamac, 7 p.m.

Nov. 30 – vs. Culver, 7 p.m.

Dec. 3 – at Southwood, 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 8 – at Argos, 7 p.m.

Dec. 10 – vs. Wabash, 1 p.m.

Dec. 15 – at North Miami, 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 27-28 – at Twin Lakes Invitational

Jan. 4 – at Plymouth, 7 p.m.

Jan. 7 – vs. Whitko, 2 p.m.

Jan. 11 – vs. Logansport, 7 p.m.

Jan. 14 – at Tippecanoe Valley, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 18 – vs. Culver Academy, 7 p.m.

Jan. 21 – at Manchester, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 26 – vs. Northfield, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 31-Feb. 4 – Class 3A, Sectional 18 at Bremen

Class 3A, Sectional 18

Rochester, Bremen, Culver Academy, John Glenn, Knox, Tippecanoe Valley

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