NEW PALESTINE — Standing along the baseline inside the New Palestine High School auxiliary, head coach Brian Kehrt calculates his response while keeping a watchful eye as shot after shot singes the net.
A few feet away on the court, Dragons senior Raegan McMurray goes round the world, finding a rhythm as she drains 3-pointers from every angle, missing few, if any.
“She’s been valuable from Day 1,” Kehrt remarks as his star forward buries five straight jumpers. “Right now, she’s the face of our program. She has helped turn this program around.”
A four-year varsity letter winner, McMurray’s impact was immediate, though she didn’t start right away. The first half of her freshman year, Kehrt admits, the plan was to incorporate her slowly as a reserve player, learning the ropes.
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McMurray had other ideas.
“We held her back as long as we could, but by Christmas time she was a starter,” Kehrt recalled. “When she first jumped in we were 3-18 with an average margin of losses at 31 points a game. From there it was winning 9, 12 and 16 games the past three years. She’s been a vital part of that.”
The same can be said of the team’s current five-game winning streak — the girls basketball program’s longest in Kehrt’s four-year tenure and first since six consecutive in 2006-07.
While McMurray is quick to dish the credit elsewhere, reflecting her career 2.0 assist per game average, the numbers reveal the indisputable. The two-time All-Hoosier Heritage Conference selection gets buckets with regularity.
The Dragons’ lone senior starter this season, McMurray has 776 career points on her résumé and continues to build on her total with a team-leading 15.9 points per game average this season.
A step up from her 12.8 ppg as a junior and 10.9 two years prior, her other peripherals have also followed suit with her rebounding leaping from 4.3 to 6.9 and assists nearly climbing to 3.0 a night.
However, the intangibles are what Kehrt puts the most stock in when discussing McMurray’s game, most notably her leadership within a lineup with of three sophomores and a junior.
“That’s where she’s made her biggest gain, as a leader. Last year, she had four seniors around her starting. She didn’t have to play that role, and I don’t think she knew how to play that role,” Kehrt said. “It’s been in just the last four weeks that we’ve really seen that come to the forefront. Some kids can’t handle that. Some kids aren’t meant for that, but she not only leads by example but vocally and in a positive way.”
Her fearlessness on the floor speaks loudly, an area McMurray takes pride in along with her versatility. Primarily a wing, the 5-foot-9 standout has seen time in the post and at point guard. Regardless of her position, McMurray says, the goal is the same — attack.
“She’s very strong, and I think our weight room program has really helped the program and her. She can post up as well as any guard, and if nothing else get to the free-throw line,” Kehrt said. “But the part of her game that has improved the most is her outside shooting.”
Known more for her penetration and driving ability in the lane, McMurray spent the past offseason with her new AAU team, Indy Magic, working in the post against players nearly a foot taller while bolstering her perimeter shot, which has her shooting 51 percent from the field.
“She’ll go at anybody. I wouldn’t want to guard her,” Kehrt laughed. “She just goes at it hard. She’s physical and uses her strength. In the past, she would drive, get bumped and fall down and maybe get a call or maybe not. Now, she’s getting bumped and finishing. That’s a maturation process she’s going through.”
Oddly enough, she stunted her own growth at a young age.
Picking up the sport in the third grade, McMurray didn’t latch onto basketball her first year. Despite a legacy in her family with her grandfather, uncle (Ray Hobbs, who played collegiate baseball at Indiana University) and mother (Rachael Hobbs McMurray) all playing in the past, she opted to quit.
“I decided I hated it,” McMurray laughs now. “I focused on softball and football and then in sixth grade, I decided to give it another shot, and then I fell back in love with it and have ever since.”
Two years later, she ramped up her daily intake, practicing almost year round, five to six days a week, with her school teams and Indiana Top Recruit Diamonds before joining Greenfield-Central star Madison Wise’s AAU team this offseason.
“I’m really close with Maddie (Wise), and she suggested I tryout with them,” McMurray said. “She helped me get a spot on the team, and I really like the coach Justin (Blanding). He did a lot of recruiting for me.”
The changeover has opened a few doors during her recruiting process as Illinois Wesleyan University has taken interest along with Cedarville University and Aurora University. Though determined to compete at the college level after graduation, McMurray intends to take her time before making a final decision.
First things first, she emphasized, especially with the Dragons in the HHC hunt, beginning with a key matchup tonight at rival Greenfield-Central (4-4, 0-1 HHC) against Wise, a potential Indiana Miss Basketball candidate.
Last season, the Dragons were third in the HHC and their best finish since the past 15 years was runner-up in 2001-02 when they tied Delta and Mt. Vernon at 5-2.
“That’s been my goal since freshman year, to win conference. Knowing this year with Greenfield suffering two huge losses, and it’s awful that Katie (Helgason) and Jessica (Farrell) are both hurt being such great players, but it gives us a chance,” McMurray said. “If we can win this with how tough the conference is, it makes me think we can maybe win sectional later. Greenfield and Pendleton will get us ready for those games.”
Wise has already prepared McMurray well in advance as the two ran the floor together this summer, but friendships will be put on hold for at least 32 minutes tonight.
“If we lose that game, we have to win out, but still we control our own destiny,” said Kehrt whose team is 6-3 overall and 3-0 in the HHC. “I always want to win. I don’t care if we’re playing checkers, I want to win.”
The Dragons are tied with Pendleton Heights (7-2, 3-0 HHC) atop the standings and have three straight league games before the Greensburg Tournament on Dec. 27. They host Pendleton Heights on Dec. 31 in their HHC finale.
McMurray believes with the team’s chemistry, a title run could be within reach, especially as sophomore Leah Seib (12.5 ppg), sophomore Haley Harrison (8.1 ppg) and junior Emma Grable (5.1 ppg) continue to develop.
“Teams have to focus on her. It’s no secret. But that opens things up for other people. It’s worked well both ways. She’s helped them by being a good player and gives them open looks,” Kehrt said. “That’s what I like about this team. I have confidence in any of them. That’s just one more step for our program.”
McMurray, a diehard Disney fan which her technicolor Minnie Mouse tattoo on her right shoulder blade attests, is happy to lead the way.
“Natalie Kehrt took me under her wing, and she pushed me all the way through until she graduated last year,” McMurray said. “Those seniors made me better and taught me how to lead my teammates.
“Now, these girls look up to me and sometimes I wonder why? But they push me to be better, even though they don’t think they do. It’s amazing playing with this team.”
School: New Palestine
AAU Team: Indy Magic
Achievements: Two-time All-Hoosier Heritage Conference First Team selection, All-Hancock County First Team selection, IBCA Underclassman All-State honorable mention.
By the Numbers: Career — 776 points, 346 rebounds, 73 games, 46 percent field goal shooting, 4.7 rebounds per game, 2.0 assists per game, 1.3 steals per game, 10.6 points per game.
Hobbies: Spending time with friends, teammates and family when not in the gym. Loves bonding with her niece, Carson, who is has “a lot of energy.”
Family: Rachael Hobbs McMurray (mom), Scott McMurray (dad), Kaylin McMurray (sister).