Group of freshmen remind coach of state runners-ups
Last year, even though the team returned after losing to Hays-Marian Thomas Moore Prep in the championship game, the Marion High School girls basketball team was greeted by 250 fans as the team bus slowly drove down Main Street.
Past normal business hours, Country Lakes Café opened its doors and greeted the team with a fresh batch of cookies.
Marion coaches Randy Savage and Steve Janzen told their players to remember the moment.
“I can tell you that TMP isn’t getting this in Hays,” Savage said. “This is something that only happens in small town America.”
It was a magical season for the Warriors. Marion went from sixth seed to the championship game with two underdog victories over Beloit and Winchester Jefferson County North.
However, only four players from that team return this year. A week into practices, Savage gave a tentative starting lineup of his three seniors — Sarah Guetersloh, Emily Hett, and Donna Cady — junior Whitney Gordon, and sophomore Erin Meierhoff. Four of the players in that lineup make up the entirety of the Warriors’ supply of upper classmen.
“I’ve had multiple people say it’s a down year,” Savage said. “I think we have a chance to be exceptionally competitive. I’ve never walked out onto the court and thought we can’t win. We’re going to come after you.”
The Warriors offense will revolve around 6-foot-2 Whitney Gordon, who is the only returning player who saw more than 20 minutes a game last season.
Even with her imposing height, Gordon possesses the quickness and passing abilities of a guard. Unlike most players her size, she will not be relegated to the paint; she has even been known to launch a 3-pointer or two. Savage will look to Gordon not only for the lion’s share of the Warriors’ scoring but also to create opportunities for other players.
“She understands the game,” Savage said. “She knows where to look and who should be cutting when.”
Senior guard Donna Cady is another returning Warrior Savage expects to score in double digits. A player with a guard’s body but a power forward’s spirit, Cady prefers to post up a defender rather than driving or shooting.
“She’ll knock you around,” Savage said.
Cady, Hett, and Meierhoff played significant minutes at Hesston last year in the Warriors third meeting with the Swathers that year. Marion held off a charge from the Swathers when the Warriors normal starters were hindered with foul trouble and injuries.
“These girls showed themselves to be quite capable at Hesston,” Savage said.
Along with Meierhoff, who Savage described as an athletic speedster, are a crop of other competitive freshmen who should see valuable minutes for the Warriors.
Katie Ehrlich, Kaelyn Thierolf, and Megan Richmond saw time on the volleyball court and will be called upon to score, defend, and hustle.
The group of freshmen Savage has this year reminds him of the seniors from last year’s team as freshmen. He said they do not have the same length but may be quicker as a group. It is in the young players’ passion and hard work that the resemblance is striking.
“Katie (Ehrlich) and Lindsey (Hett), there’s not a lot of difference as freshmen,” Savage said as an example. “They play a lot alike, intensity-wise.”
Savage said the way the team performs may be related to how quickly the freshmen can pick up the high school game.
“It’s more indicative of the kind of player you are of who I allow to finish the game,” Savage said. “It says Marion on the front of your shirt. The players that give us the best chance to win will play.”
Even with the success they sustained for much of their high school careers, Julia Zeiner, Lindsay Hett, Bridget Lundy, Kristen Steinborn, and Danae Edwards struggled to win games when they played the majority of the minutes for the Warriors five years ago.
“That’s a big jump,” Savage said of the change from middle school to high school basketball.
With all the changes the Warriors face this season, the style of play will change little. Savage said he wants the team to run, press, and play tough man-to-man defense.
He also added that losing was acceptable, failing to try hard was not.
“If you fail it’s all right, we’ve never yelled at anybody who made a mistake at full speed,” Savage said.