NEW PALESTINE – For summer basketball 2013, the New Palestine girls eschewed the normal team shootouts and leagues.
Then-recently hired head coach Brian Kehrt decided his group needed to get back to the basics before it faced more veteran opponents (and all of the Dragons’ opponents last season were more veteran).
The focus on fundamentals worked for New Palestine, which went from a three-win squad in 2012-13 to a nine-win club last season, despite a roster of two freshmen, seven sophomores, two juniors and no seniors.
Confidence buoyed from the winter experience, the Dragons hit the road in June for tourneys at Knightstown, Fishers and Pike.
“We decided that we were to a point where we could start to expand that a little bit and play some games,” said Kehrt, whose team battled in 12-15 games. “We played against different levels of teams. It was good experience.
“Last summer, we weren’t ready. This summer, we could compete with a lot of those teams. And we had a good summer.”
With no losses to graduation, the Dragons hit the court for the second straight offseason with the same personnel.
Incoming seniors Emma Laughlin (6.4 points per game) and Gia Nitschke (3.1), juniors Haley Stratman (7.9), Natalie Kehrt (6.9) and Katlyn Keele (3.7) and Carly Hackler 5.6) and sophomore Raegan McMurray (6.2 ppg) hope they’re on their way to history. The youngsters finished 9-11 last season; the program’s last winning record was in 2004-05.
“It’s been a decade,” said Kehrt, who was coaching the NP boys in 2004-05. “These girls know how long it’s been. They want to be the team that gets over the hump.
“They kind of saw this summer how good they could be.”
After losing eight games by 30 or more points in 2012-13, the Dragons suffered only two such blowouts last winter, both in the first 10 days of the season. They compiled a 5-2 mark down the stretch before dropping their final two games by a combined six points.
“Last year, we had bad stretches, but we had a few stretches that were pretty impressive,” Kehrt said.
The trend continued this summer, according to Kehrt. Among several impressive individual displays, McMurray is efforting toward a standout sophomore season.
“If there’s one kid that’s a big-time gym rat right now and has worked on her shot, that’s Raegan McMurray,” Kehrt said. “She always volunteers to guard the other team’s best player, even in the summer. It’s pretty amazing.
“But I can’t discount all the other hard work from our other girls. They all want to be in the gym. Those kids all showed some amazing improvement.”
Although the players remain, they’ll face a slightly different schedule. 4A Decatur Central and local 2A foe Eastern Hancock have been added for 2014-15, along with a four-team New Palestine holiday tourney that will include 3A Greensburg, 2A Indianapolis Shortridge and 3A Tri-West.
The Dragons are eager to get started. Kehrt calls this group’s chemistry and work ethic among the best of any of his boys or girls teams.
And the good vibrations extend to the NP feeder system, where last year’s Dragons won the seventh grade county tourney. A few of those incoming eighth graders were invited to play with the varsity this summer.
“There are some kids there that can flat play,” Kehrt said. “Post players already over 6-foot tall. They have some things that you just can’t teach.
“I think that group has a chance to be just as strong as the group we have now, if not stronger.”
Helping Kehrt mold the young talent are returning assistants Rocky Thayer and Chris Story and new staff member Kate Judy.
The coaches agree, the Dragons have come a long way in a year.
“We kind of look at each other and smile and say, ‘Now we can kind of coach,’” Kehrt noted. “We don’t have to oversimplify our offenses and defenses, and we can start to do some things I think the kids are going to find fun.
“They want to go get people, extend our defense, press, and they’re pretty good at it. I’m excited to see what we can do this season.”