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  • Val T.

Rochester girls basketball preview: McCarter, Clevenger most experienced Lady Z returnees


Sports Editor, RTC

The Rochester girls basketball team has seven players as coach Joel Burrus starts his second season.

In time, will they be known as the magnificent seven?

Rochester went 11-13 last season, but they graduated Sydney Haughs, Maddi Heinzmann, Rily Holloway, Emma Howdeshell, Kallie Watson and Elizabeth Weaver. Four other players decided not to play.

The team consists of four juniors and three freshmen. There will be no JV.

Two of the seven – wing Ella McCarter and guard Rylee Clevenger – have extensive previous varsity experience, though Mia Howdeshell also got brief varsity playing time last year.

Howdeshell and Audrey Bolinger, who missed last season due to knee surgery, are the other juniors. The three freshmen are guard Aubrey Wilson, post player Jadyn Field and wing Brailyn Hunter.

McCarter and Clevenger both played AAU ball over the summer.

“They both have put a ton of time in to their game, working on other parts of their game,” Burrus said, adding that he is hoping for 12-15 points per game from each.

Clevenger could have more ballhandling responsibilities with Howdeshell and Watson having graduated.

Burrus, a 2006 North Miami grad, is empathetic towards the role Clevenger will be needed to play.

“It’s an interesting situation because I’ve gone back and forth on that,” Burrus said. “We want her to have the ball in her hands, but we also know being a point guard, I lost out on a lot of scoring opportunities because I had to facilitate first. Maybe that was also because of the situation I was in being a coach’s kid. Your mindset is how do I help the team? What fits best here? It’s a lot harder to score when you’ve got the ball in your hands at the top of the key than it is to be coming off screens. So my answer to that question is she’s got to be able to do both.”

Burrus also might incorporate ball screens to try and give Clevenger space to operate.

“And if she’s got the ball and we’ve got to have her handling the ball, the ball screen is also going to be something that we can use in the middle of the floor. More of a horns-type set. We’re looking at some of that because we’ve got two posts this year.

“So we’re going to be doing everything we can to put her and McCarter in scoring situations and get them the ball to where they can do what we need them to do to get them good, quality shots.”

Bolinger saw brief varsity minutes in 2021-22 as a freshman. Burrus said he’s seen a “ton of improvement” in Bolinger based on the work she put in over the summer and added that she’s capable of making 12-15 foot jumpers.

But her primary importance could be on the glass.

“I seriously think if she is a ball hawk and has a nose for the ball, and she’s playing the middle of our defense, there’s no reason she can’t get 10 rebounds a game,” Burrus said. “She’s aggressive to the ball. She commands space. She can block out. She does a good job in there.”

An illness wrecked the end of Howdeshell’s volleyball season, but Howdeshell has not missed a practice, according to Burrus. He added that Howdeshell is a shooting guard who will get open looks if opponents pay too much attention to McCarter or Clevenger.

Wilson played her entire freshman volleyball season as a setter without ever leaving the court. Burrus attended many volleyball matches and is optimistic for a carryover.

“I think anytime that you face adversity as a freshman,” Burrus said. “She faced adversity on the volleyball court. I watched her a lot. I go to the volleyball games, and obviously, I’m going to watch my kids, and I watched how she handled herself, and some of those situations where she may have been getting her teeth kicked in a little bit, the one thing I’ll say about her is she always got back up. And I was impressed by that because there were some times where she could have said, ‘Hey, get me out. Get somebody else in here.’ She didn’t do that, and those are the type of people you want in your program. Because you know that they are competitive. And she’s a competitor. She really is.”

Field will join Bolinger and McCarter in the frontcourt. Burrus raved about her “motor” and said “she’ll run through a wall for you.”

“Obviously, her size and her athletic ability at her size,” Burrus said when asked what stands out about Field as compared to other freshmen. “She moves well at her size. She’s still learning a lot. I think that you could say that she’s still raw. She has a ton of potential. We saw that in the eighth grader with her last year. We knew that she was going to be in the mix; now we just have got to really teach her how to play basketball.”

Burrus also said Hunter really started to “blossom” as an eighth-grader. She’s grown to 5-7, and Burrus sees her as a wing.

“I think the biggest thing with her is I don’t think she knows how good she can be,” Burrus said.

As for the numbers, Burrus raves about the role that Mitch Bowers has played in helping build the feeder program in the long run, saying they have 120 kids playing basketball in grades 3-5.

A program for kindergarteners and first and second-graders will start after Christmas. Burrus talks of building a “bottom to the top” program.

As for the short term, he thinks this team will draw closer.

“I think the season’s going to have to play out some, but like I said, they’ve been together all summer and all fall,” Burrus said. “They are becoming a unit, and they know that it’s just them.”

Coaching staff

Jake Nigh returns to the staff as an assistant coach. Joe McCarter, Zach Dishon and Colt Meadows have joined the staff as volunteer assistants.

Schedule changes

Rochester has added Clinton Central and a four-team tournament at North White to their schedule.

Clinton Prairie and Kouts are the other two teams in the field at the North White tournament, which will be held on Dec. 29. The Winning Edge will sponsor, and the tournament will rotate among the four sites from year to year.

Culver Academy and the eight-team tournament at Twin Lakes are no longer on the schedule.

Tippecanoe Valley will remain on the schedule despite no longer being in the TRC. The Valley and Lewis Cass games will essentially flip spots on the schedule: The Valley game will now be the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and the Lewis Cass game will be played in mid-January.

The Valley game will be at Valley for the second straight year. The Lewis Cass game will be at Rochester for the second straight year. Rochester will play four at home and five on the road in conference play.

Rochester will also host Class 3A, Sectional 18 from Jan. 30-Feb. 3.

Class 3A, Sectional 18

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


Nov. 2 – vs. North Judson, 7 p.m.

Nov. 4 – at Caston, 7 p.m.

Nov. 8 – vs. Northwestern, 7 p.m.

Nov. 11 – vs. NorthWood, 3 p.m.

Nov. 16 – at Peru, 7:45 p.m.

Nov. 18 – at Maconaquah, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 21 – at Tippecanoe Valley, 7 p.m.

Nov. 25 – vs. Winamac, 6 p.m.

Nov. 29 – at Culver, 6:30 p.m.

Dec. 2 – vs. Southwood, 6 p.m.

Dec. 7 – vs. Argos, 7 p.m.

Dec. 9 – at Wabash, 1:30 p.m.

Dec. 14 – vs. North Miami, 7 p.m.

Dec. 20 – at Clinton Central, 6:30 p.m.

Dec. 29 – at North White tournament (field includes Clinton Prairie, Kouts)

Jan. 3 – vs. Plymouth, 7 p.m.

Jan. 6 – at Whitko, 2:30 p.m.

Jan. 10 – at Logansport, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 13 – vs. Lewis Cass, 6 p.m.

Jan. 20 – vs. Manchester, 6 p.m.

Jan. 25 – at Northfield, 7:45 p.m.

Jan. 30-Feb. 3 – Class 3A, Sectional 18 at Rochester

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