Two starters return from 2009-10 state qualifier
For the first time during his four-year tenure, Lady Trojans basketball coach Nathan Hiebert will be without Dakota Kaufman — Hillsboro’s do-it-all three-sport standout, helping the Trojans to back-to-back state tournament appearances in both volleyball and basketball — who took her act to Kansas State University for volleyball.
Losing more than half his offense, rebounding, and a 6-foot-1 presence on defense could be enough to leave Hiebert concerned about this year.
But he’s not.
Although the Trojans lost Kaufman, Candace Weinbrenner, and Sarah Unruh — who, together, accounted for over 60 percent of the scoring and rebounding — Hiebert is upbeat about this year.
“I’m excited about the season,” he said. “This group of girls brings a great work ethic every day and is very coachable.
“They take pride in working hard and we’ve got several girls in the mix of getting varsity. We won’t rely so much on just one player, but bring more production from a lot of different areas.”
The good news for Hiebert is that he returns two starters from last year’s team and a total of six letter-winners who ended the season at 18-6.
Hillsboro struggled out of the gate, but got hot at the right time, crushing Ellinwood, Sedgwick, and Remington in substate before tumbling in the first round of the Class 3A state tournament to the eventual third-place finisher Garden Plain.
The 55-47 loss to the Owls has to be a motivator for the Trojans’ top two returning scorers, sophomore Tena Loewen and senior guard Allie Faul, Hiebert’s lone starters.
Loewen finished second to Kaufman in rebounding, averaging 5.2 per game to go along with an average of 6.3 points and two assists per game.
The 5-foot-10 Loewen could be a dandy by the time she’s a senior, breaking into the starting lineup early on, and creating problems down low.
What’s more is she makes her teammates around her better, and she’s a fierce competitor who prepares herself well for challenges.
Faul helped provide solid leadership last year as a junior, and is the likely floor leader to run Hiebert’s motion offense from the point. She averaged 6.1 points per game and is the returning leader in both assists and steals at two each.
Faul has the ability to create plays and spread the floor as well as hit the open shot outside.
Hiebert’s got a slew of players who are dangerous from outside and stretch out a zone, but not many saw varsity action other than in games already decided.
Senior Becky Faber was one of Hiebert’s first off the bench a year ago, and has improved ball handling to go along with her feisty defense and strong mid-range game, making her one Hiebert could start in the backcourt.
The 5-foot-4 Faber averaged only two points per game last year.
Leaving junior Callie Serene open, opponents can expect to pay as the 5-foot-4 Serene is perhaps the Trojans’ deadliest shooter from outside.
Serene shot better than 40 percent from the 3-point range a year ago, and she’s got good speed with the ball and getting up and down the floor in transition.
Don’t rule out Courtney Weber, Christina Morris, Steph Sanders, Maci Schlehuber, or freshmen Addie Lackey and Danae Bina for varsity time in the backcourt.
The bad news is there’s not a tremendous abundance of height down low, nor experience, leaving Hiebert to rely on speed and quickness.
The Trojans will also miss Franny Gottsch’s presence in the frontcourt as she moved to Oklahoma during the summer.
“Right now, we have several girls fighting for spots on the varsity court. We’re going to try to use this to our advantage,” Hiebert said. “There are many girls that bring different benefits, it’s been fun to see how they all work together.
“Yes, we bring back six returning letter-winners, but many of the younger girls that we’ll need to step up have limited varsity experience.”
With Kaufman in the middle, the Trojans grew accustomed to feeding the ball inside and having her finish.
With Kaufman gone, outside of Loewen, the Trojans are thin and inexperienced inside, meaning everybody will have to help out and maintain good balance.
Loewen’s size leaves her a candidate for either swing or power forward, but she can also produce from outside.
Weber can get to the basket and she’s challenging for time down low, but at 5-foot-7, she’s got a game polished more for the backcourt than inside.
Krista Reimer and Amy Bartel are battling for time, too, but only the Heyen twins, Elise and Emma, are true post players.
Elise Heyen had more varsity experience than 5-foot-11 Emma Heyen did.
The 6-foot Elise Heyen continued to hone her game and is another player Hiebert can count on to finish inside and rebound.
She has the ability to alter opponents’ shots, creating matchup problems, and is strong both facing and with her back to the basket.
Emma Heyen also has great size and has improved her game to help Hillsboro on both ends of the floor.
She saw limited minutes for varsity, but she was a key player for the Trojans’ junior varsity squad, which finished 14-4.
“I can see all four seniors playing important roles for our team this year,” Hiebert said. “I can’t say who will start, that’s still up in the air. We have several girls competing for spots and doing a nice job.”
The MCAA conference provided Hillsboro with a good share of memorable, exciting moments through the years.
The league was up for grabs heading into the final regular season game against Wichita-Collegiate.
Hillsboro’s bid at winning the last league title came to an end with Ashia Woods and the Spartans leaving town with the crown and the Trojans with a 10-1 record in league play.
The Trojans now bid farewell both to the Spartans and the MCAA conference, joining the newly formed Central Kansas League.
Many of the former MCAA foes remain with Nickerson, Hesston, Smoky Valley, Haven, Sterling, Halstead, and Lyons still intact.
Gone are the Spartans and Hoisington, but Class 4A Kingman and Pratt have been added.
Even with the addition of the Eagles and Greenbacks, Hiebert still expects Nickerson and Hesston to be the teams to beat.
The Trojans face a good early season schedule, as well as an always-solid Trojan Classic field in mid-January.
Hillsboro opens the year in a rematch of last year’s season finale against Garden Plain before facing perennial Class 2A stalwart Moundridge in the Moundridge Tournament this weekend.
The Trojan Classic lineup is loaded with the defending Class 3A state champion Thomas More Prep Lady Monarchs, Riley County, and Hesston possibly waiting.