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  • Val T.

Rochester girls basketball update

After 17-0 summer season, Burrus’ message to Lady Zs: Take a break


BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC

Rochester girls basketball coach Joel Burrus wants his players to take a break for Moratorium Week next week.

Do not pick up a ball. Relax.

He cannot be sure that they will though.

They have earned the time off if they choose to take it, according to Burrus. Rochester played 17 games in the month of June. And the Lady Zs won all 17 of them.

He even canceled a tournament at Lakeland just to give them more rest.

That’s a departure from a team that went 12-12 last winter and never had more than a two-game winning streak or a two-game losing streak.

“Coming from softball, a lot of these girls that we have, they have not had a break all year,” Burrus said. “We had a workout (Tuesday), and I said, ‘You guys have to take a break during dead week. Like, you need to relax. Take a break.’ … You can definitely tell they’re tired.”

Burrus said he wanted to schedule the extra games this summer because Rochester did not graduate any seniors from last year.

The senior core consists of shooting guard Rylee Clevenger, wing Ella McCarter and forward Audrey Bolinger. The sophomores who are back include point guard Aubrey Wilson, wing Brailyn Hunter and post player Jadyn Field. Three freshmen have also participated in summer activities – Jayla Miller, Kyla Conley and Constance Velez.

Burrus compared this team’s summer schedule to the one that the Southwood boys team took during the summer prior to the 2009-10 season. That team, coached by Joel’s father John, won 18 games and made it to semistate.

“We wanted to play a lot of high-quality opponents this summer within what we do,” Burrus said. “Obviously, you start talking about coach (David) Baxter at Benton Central and (coach) Rush (McColley) and what they do at Harrison and what they do up at Northridge … last summer was a lot more about development in our team and not playing as much because we knew we were going to have some young kids in the mix and we knew we had to get them up to speed very fast, but because of what Wilson, Field and Hunter had done as freshmen and then obviously with R.J. (Clevenger), McCarter and Bolinger coming back, we were like now this summer, it’s going to be more about us going and playing and getting better within what we do and then adding on to what we do. … Last summer, we didn’t leave our gym nearly as much.”

Clevenger hit 56 3-pointers last year and led the team at 10 points per game. The rest of the team hit 61 treys combined.

“If she ups her percentage to 35, 40 percent, she’s going to be knocking on the door of some pretty big names that have shot a lot of 3s at Rochester,” Burrus said. “She hit a boatload of 3s last year, and she did not shoot the ball at the level that she wanted to. She holds herself to a high standard, and if we can get her shooting percentage up and she has shot the ball at a much higher clip this summer … we think she has the ability to hit 70 to 80 3s.”

Burrus said McCarter has grown since last year. He estimates her height to be 5-11 ½. Like Clevenger, she was a first-team all-Three Rivers Conference player last year, and she has improved her defense, her rebounding and her aggressiveness offensively.

“Her game has improved in multiple categories,” Burrus said. “Her defense and her rebounding has gotten a lot better, and she’s gotten a lot stronger. … Last summer was about getting her aggressive, being aggressive, getting her to the rim. This summer, she is taking on much more of a scoring role. Last year, she doesn’t make first-team all-conference if she doesn’t fight through some of the adversity that she faced the first half of the year.”

Burrus called Bolinger “probably the most coachable kid I’ve ever coached.”

“She is a glue kid,” Burrus said. “The offensive rebounding side that she has added to her game more than anything this year because she’s stronger and she’s more confident in her legs and her knee, and you know, I can’t tell you how many times this summer she’s ran balls down and gotten them to the people that need the ball and then they’ve been able to get a shot and make an extra pass for a layup. Just keeping plays alive, she does so many of the dirty work things. She’s got a high IQ of the game. She thinks the game. She really can break the game down. She’s just been awesome this summer. And then defensively, anchoring the middle of our defense, she’s just been really good.”

Burrus raves about Wilson’s competitiveness and said “she is wired a lot like me.” She scored 17 points against Knox and 16 against Tippecanoe Valley in their two sectional games. The next step is improving her outside shot.

“We know what kind of defender she is,” Burrus said. “We know that she is an absolute gamer. When it comes to game time and the lights are on and the butts are in the bleachers, that girl is going to give you 110%. She’s going to run through a wall for you. And if you get in her way, you better look out. Now we’ve got to make her into a better shooter. … And Wilson’s a perfectionist. She’s a high academic kid. She’s one of those kids that she wants to get it done, and if a coach is pushing her, she’s going to do anything anyway to get it done for you, and that’s why you’re going to go into battle with her.”

“Field playing AAU and getting more reps has been nothing but positive for her,” Burrus said. “She has gotten a lot of improvement offensively. She’s stepping out more. She’s more confident away from the basket. She is probably in the best physical shape you can be in. She’s about 5-10 right now. She’s cut. She can run the floor extremely well. Between her and Bolinger, I’m telling you I can’t even imagine how many offensive rebounds they’ve had. If a team is scouting us early on in the season, they’re going to be like, how are we going to keep these girls off the boards? They’re what I call ballhawks.”

One of Hunter’s standout qualities is her defensive versatility within the team’s 2-3 zone defense, according to Burrus. Burrus said she is an inch-and-a-half to two inches taller than last year. Burrus admitted he threw Hunter to the wolves last year but said she benefited from the experience.

“The biggest thing with her is she’s our most hybrid defender,” Burrus said. “Because she can play the bottom, the wing on the bottom, ball side or weak side, and then she can come up and play the top with R.J. or Wilson to get them a break. And the big thing with her is her length up top. … She’s got a lot of length, but offensively, she’s really been able to attack gaps. We’ve really seen her improve her pullup (jumper).”

Burrus said that Rochester will not play Argos – Burrus’ predecessor Brian Jennings is the new Argos coach this year – and that Taylor will replace them on the schedule.

But regardless of whom they are playing, they likely will have increased the excitement level around the program by the time Feb. 4, 2025 – the first day of sectionals – arrives.

Burrus said this is a continuation of an improvement that started last season. He said a key is not getting complacent.

So far, so good.

“A lot of things have come from this summer,” Burrus said. “Winning is always nice, but are you learning and are you getting better within that winning, especially during the summer? … In the summertime, when you’re doing that, you’re going in the right direction.”


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