Girls prep hoops preseason countdown: #6 BISHOP DWENGER SAINTS
Last season looked a lot like the year before for the Bishop Dwenger Saints.
For the second straight campaign, Coach Cleveland Inge’s team went 14-8, with a loss to Concordia in the sectional championship ending the season.
With three of its top four leading scorers back from last year — led by Fabulous Five candidate Ellen Ross in the post — Bishop Dwenger is a strong bet to notch a winning record for its third-consecutive season, a feat not achieved by the program since 2004-06.
The goal is a familiar one for Inge’s squad, to capture the Saints’ first sectional title in girls basketball since 1999.
“The girls told me they are tired of getting game balls,” said Inge, referring to the basketball given to the sectional runner-up. “Those girls hated them. I told them, ‘Then don’t lose in sectional.'”
Ross emerged as an absolute monster last year, averaging nearly a double-double as a junior with 15.3 points and 9.6 rebounds a contest.
But Ross is not a post in the traditional sense. Inge says that the 5-foot-10 senior is capable of playing any position for the Saints, including point guard. While she will stay mostly in the paint, expect to see Ross move around on occasion to bring out her defender to beat on the outside or hit an open jumper off the ball.
Ross lost her partner in crime up front in departed senior Josie Kolkman (4.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg), but sophomore Carissa Wiegman will look to pick up the slack. Wiegman saw action in 21 varsity games as a freshman and can hit shots around the basket.
Senior Olivia Sterba hurt her knee at the end of last season but is back and healthy after averaging 7.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 16 games. She is one of the more underrated finishers around the basket in the conference. The former volleyball player is quick on her feet and is smooth and calculated in the air.
Senior Grace Wharton (3.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg) is more of a 3 and gives the Saints some aggressiveness on the wing.
It was expected that the Saints would only lose one experienced guard in the graduated Natalie Mowery (5.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg), but a big loss has recently hit.
Point guard Jayda Smith, who averaged 9.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game as a sophomore last season, is no longer attending Bishop Dwenger
“I don’t know what happened with Jayda,” Inge said. “All of a sudden she disappeared.”
Inge said that he believes Smith is now attending Penn.
With Smith gone, Dwenger will turn to 5-5 sophomore Molly Ream to helm the offense. The youthful Ream impressed at the JV level last year and Inge believes she is capable of being a floor leader.
“She is very intelligent, a true point guard willing to make the passes,” Inge said. “she will run the show. She’s got the keys to the car right now, she’s driving the bus.”
Senior Faith Taylor will also see time at guard. A former post player, Taylor is so adept at passing that Inge has to tell her its alright to shoot a time or two.
Senior Caitlyn Ryan is a three-point ace on the outside. She dropped six against Garrett and a trio against Leo in sectional play last season.
Depth on the outside will come from sisters Winnie (5-5 senior) and Sammie (5-5 sophomore) O’Brien.
THE BIG QUESTION: Who can handle the ball effectively for Dwenger?
Inge is confident in many areas with his team, but still wants to see consistency in his team’s ballhandling.
The point guards are largely inexperienced at the varsity level in pressure situations. With a December schedule that includes the likes of Northrop, Snider, Homestead and Concordia over a 14-day stretch, Dwenger’s SAC title chances hinge on his fresh-faced guards settling in quickly through the first month of the season.
BIG GAME TO WATCH: December 15 at Concordia
The Saints have lost 22 of their last 23 games against Concordia, the team that just so happens to be the squad that has knocked off Dwenger in the sectional in each of the last five years.
For the Saints to have a shot at a postseason title, it must beat the Cadets when it counts. Getting a win over Concordia in mid-December would be a big morale boost for a program eyeing a 3A sectional crown.
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