For the complete 2012-13 Hancock County Girls Basketball Preview, which includes schedules, predictions, stat leaders, polls and more, pick up a copy of Thursday's Daily Reporter. The paper is available at the Daily Reporter office, 22 W. New Road, Greenfield.
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Twelve months ago, Eastern Hancock was embarking on a new season with the cleanest of slates.
The Royals were breaking in a new coach, along with a roster reliant on one junior, six sophomores and one freshman. The program hadn’t posted a winning record since the 2003-04 campaign (11-10) and gathered a combined 12 wins in the previous three seasons.
Turns out, all EH needed was a new beginning.
The Royals roared to an 8-2 start and finished with a record of 12-9, the most wins for the program since the 2002-03 team went 16-7.
It was a landmark season. And as far as EH is concerned, it’s now ancient history.
“We said the first day of practice, ‘Last year is over with. Let’s make this year better,’” second-year coach Jeremy Powers said.
The Royals return 97.7 percent of their scoring from last season, including the team’s top eight point producers.
With a year of experience under its belt, Eastern Hancock expects to compete with any adversary on a nightly basis.
“There’s more of a business-like atmosphere around here, which means they’ve been with me for a year now. They understand the expectations a little bit more now,” explained Powers, a 1998 EH graduate. “They understand what it’s like to come to work every now, as I refer to it.
“The attitude — in regards to the way we handle practice, the way we conduct ourselves — is totally different than what it was a year ago.”
One of the biggest keys to last season’s turnaround was the Royals’ ability to thrive under pressure. In games decided by five points or less, EH went 8-0.
Powers was pleasantly surprised at the mental fortitude his group showed, remarking that it was the sign of a “hungry team.” He also noted his squad often couldn’t match that intensity against tougher competition, but claims those defeats have given rise to a unit that will be equal to the intense battles provided by some of the state’s elite.
EH finished 2-7 against teams with winning records, and dropped its final three games to Centerville, Triton Central and Hagerstown, a trio of teams that finished with a joint record of 62-12. Triton Central beat Centerville to win the Speedway regional before falling at semistate.
“We started losing confidence in ourselves. We started losing confidence in what we were doing. And so, when you play Centerville, and play at Bankers Life (Fieldhouse) versus Triton Central and turn around and play Hagerstown in sectional, for a young team, that’s tough,” Powers offered. “But I think the mindset is different now.
“We’re at that level. We’re where they are at. And you’ll see a different team with that this year.”
For the most part, the names taking the floor for Eastern Hancock won’t change this season.
The returnees are highlighted by junior forward Kristen Eischen, who led the team in scoring (8.2 points per game) and rebounding (7.4 rebounds per game) in 2011-12, as well as junior point guard Kiersten Schrope, who paced EH in assists (2.8 per game) and steals (3.3 per game).
Eischen, who recorded three double-doubles a season ago — notably a 19-point, 15-rebound effort against Muncie Southside, was voted second-team All-Hancock County after his sophomore season.
“I believe that she can be the best athletic player in this county,” Powers said of Eischen. “I really believe that because of the quick first step she has. She can get to a person’s hip quicker than anybody I’ve seen.”
As for Schrope, Powers refers to her as the team’s “table-setter,” and said the team feeds off her constant energy. Powers has encouraged Schrope to become more of a vocal leader. Thus far, she has obliged.
“I try to get everyone in position and make sure everyone is where they need to be,” said Schrope, who led the EH cross country team to its first-ever semistate appearance in October. “(But) I rely on my teammates to help when I need to be somewhere.”
In addition to Eischen and Schrope, four other players logged at least five points per game last season: Hannah Best (6.0), Kaytlin Eastes and Alora Marshall (5.7), as well as Lauren Harmon (5.0).
“We don’t have one go-top player; we’ve got 10 go-to players, 10 girls that can do a variety of different things,” Powers said. “One night you’re going to have one player in double-figures. The next night you’re going to have somebody else. … They give the ball up for each other.”
Allison Dickey, Shelby Mourey, Peyton Neisler and Skyler Overleese round out the Royals’ rotation, which Powers will craft differently each game as he juggles his starting lineup based on matchups.
And though its offense figures to produce a new leader each night, one principle Eastern Hancock will not stray from is its stiff defense.
The blue-and-white surrendered an average of 46 points a game last season, and held five opponents in the 30s.
Powers plans to make use of the Royals’ length and depth with more full-court pressure, and his players appear to be well-schooled in his philosophy.
“We win games with defense…” Eischen said, before Schrope finished her sentence.
“…and our offense always starts with our defense,” Schrope explained.
EH is likely to draw its fair share of fouls with its defense, but that may not be such a good thing. The Royals shot 47 percent from the free-throw line a season ago.
Powers could only shake his head when the subject of free throws was broached, but noted the team is recording its charity stripe performance in practice, and is engaging in different competitions in an attempt to alleviate the issue.
“You’re starting to see the differences already and the girls are having to be held accountable for where they’re shooting at,” he said. “And if you’re not shooting where you should be, the team average is dropping.”
In the team’s first go-around in the Mid-Hoosier Conference, Powers believes his team, along with Indian Creek and Southwestern, will be in the mix for the league title. Triton Central captured the MHC in 2011-12, but has since left the conference.
As far as the Sectional 41 tournament, Knightstown will host this season with Centerville being the defending champion. Eastern Hancock’s lone sectional title came in 2001.
Powers said coaching this unit has been easy for him because of the level of familiarity he enjoys with the players. He referenced a recent occurrence in practice as proof of his team’s growth.
“Two players were not quite understanding the switching part of the defense, but I didn’t have to step in and say anything. They were able to talk each other through it,” he offered. “Last year we would not have had that. That’s an experienced team.”
Keep An Eye On
The junior forward spent the offseason fine-tuning her quick-release jump shot, hoping to increase her field goal percentage both inside and outside the three-point arc. At five-foot-eight, Eischen has the height to finish over guards but also the quickness to blow by most forwards. Expect her to lead EH in scoring once again.