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Girls basketball preview: Mt. Vernon

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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.

When practice tipped off last October, it was as though Mt. Vernon coach Julie Shelton was teaching a 300-level class. But after losing four contributing seniors who led the Marauders to the Class 3A state title game, Shelton is back to teaching Basketball 101.

“Going back to square one is hard when you’re competitive and you want to win every possession,” Shelton said, “and now you’ve got young kids looking at you like, What’s going on here?”

So it’s back to basics, and in Shelton’s classroom that means defense, first and foremost. But Shelton has homework of her own: Balancing expectations and patience.

“I need to do a better job of being patient, and I’m working on that,” Shelton said, “but I also want them to know what’s expected so we can win eventually.”

In losing Jessica Brown, Anna Olson, Kelsie Owens and Makenzi Reasor, the Marauders lost scoring, playmaking, defense, rebounding, toughness, experience and an incredible amount of heart. But you won’t hear anybody at MV—coach or player—use the word “rebuilding.”

“A lot of people don’t have very high expectations of us, but I think the girls that are here now have just as much talent,” said Rachel Houck, one of two returning starters. “I think we’re capable of doing what we did last year.”

A 5-6 senior guard, Houck averaged 10.8 points per game last year. Her biggest weapon: the 3-pointer. She hit 55 of them, connecting on 45 percent of her attempts. But that was with Brown, an Indiana All-Star, at the point. This year, Houck will be asked to handle the ball more.

“With her experience and strength, she’s going to have to be the kid that has the ball in her hands,” Shelton said. “She has all of those skills and is very capable of doing that. It’s just going to be a new role.”

If they can take care of the basketball, Olivia Coleman (a 5-9 sophomore) and Sydney Shelton (a 5-7 freshman) will get minutes at point guard, allowing Houck to slide over to the 2 spot.

“I don’t like to take her 3-point shooting away,” Shelton said. “I want her to get up the floor and spot up some. So it might be a mix of two or three kids (at the point), depending on who can handle it come game time.”

Houck’s changing role isn’t just about the position she’ll play. As the best player on a top-ranked team, Brown was the face of MV hoops. She was a captain, the unquestioned leader, and more often than not the team spokesperson after big wins and tough losses. Houck, the only senior with tangible varsity experience, will be counted on for leadership. It’s a responsibility she’s ready to accept.

“I’m going to make myself ready for it,” she said. “Jessica was really good at all of that stuff. Me and Erica (Moore), we just have to adapt to it.”

A big, strong, gifted post player who has scholarship offers from more than a dozen Division I schools, Moore is the rock upon which the Marauders should be able to lean. The 6-1 junior averaged 10.7 points per game last year, and this year she brings to the floor a more mature approach and a polished set of skills.

“I don’t feel like anyone in the state of Indiana that we play can stop her in the post,” Shelton said.

Moore is a force in the paint, but like a lot of post players, she likes to flash her guard skills when given the chance. She can handle the ball and has a nice short-range jumper, and she’ll float away from the basket from time to time to work outside the paint. But Shelton doesn’t want her to stray too far.

“I understand that it’s more fun for her and maybe that’s what she’ll do at the college level,” Shelton said. “I don’t have a problem with her doing it at times. I just wish she’d understand what I see, that there’s no one that can stop her (in the post).”

With Olson, Reasor and Moore attacking the glass on every possession, the trio averaged 18.5 rebounds per game last year. This year, Moore will have to shoulder more of that load, but she’ll be helped by Ellie Balbach, a 5-11 senior who should slide into the starting lineup after playing limited minutes a year ago.

“I’m definitely hoping that Ellie can step in and take some of Anna and Makenzi’s minutes and do some of the things that they both did,” Shelton said.

Coleman is an intriguing player. She has all the physical tools to be an explosive scorer and playmaker. But she’s young, and sometimes she tries to do too much. If she can show that her game has matured, she’ll give Shelton another weapon to complement Moore and Houck.

“She’s really smooth and really athletic,” Houck said. “She can jump, she can run, she can shoot. She’s really hard to stop.”

Two other names to remember: Krista Shockley and Maddie Walrod. Shockley, a 5-8 senior, will add frontcourt depth. Walrod is rehabbing after offseason knee surgery. The 5-8 junior guard should be ready to contribute by Christmas.

“When she’s healthy,” Shelton said, “she’ll get a lot of minutes.”

Eight months ago, MV fell a game short of its ultimate goal. A three-point loss to Fort Wayne Concordia sent the Marauders back to Fortville unfulfilled and searching for answers. The seniors moved on (Brown, Olson, Owens and Reasor all went on to play college ball), while everybody else took two months off. When they reconvened in the summer, they did so not as defending state finalists, but as a brand new team with a brand new identity. Some are still trying to shake the memory of the title game loss (“I’m still trying to get over it,” Moore said), while others don’t want to (“I keep it in my head because I don’t want it to happen again,” said Houck). Whatever the individual approach, there is one clear collective goal: Work hard, get better, become a team and, come tournament time, be a force to be reckoned with. Again.

“By January my hope is that we all know our roles, we’re all on the same page and we’ve become a team,” Shelton said. “When you lose four huge chunks that have been here for four years, the team is fragmented. We’ve got to find our new team and go on from there. And I think we will. It’s just a matter of getting to that point.”

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