When the girls basketball season tips off tonight, two Lenawee County coaches will be making their varsity coaching debuts. That’s just the start.
On Tuesday, three more coaches will be making their debuts.
The 2021-22 season is one of transition in Lenawee County as five new head coaches are taking over programs and two more are starting their second year. Gone are veteran coaches like Rick McNeil at Madison and Matt Benge at Sand Creek, as well as four-year varsity players like Bree Salenbien (Lenawee Christian), Mya Hiram (Onsted) and Kara Stutzman (Blissfield).
A new crop of players, however, are ready to take their place.
Tecumseh, for example, has three freshmen players on the varsity that figure to make a splash.
“They will come right in and give us opportunities to be successful,” said Tecumseh head coach Kristy Zajac, who open the season Tuesday at Monroe.
Onsted led the county in wins last year with 14 while Lenawee Christian reached the regional semifinal, before bowing out to Ypsilanti Arbor Prep. Other than four-time county player of the year Salenbien, the Cougars have everyone else back.
Adrian has its third head coach in three seasons. New Maple head coach Sam Hotopp has been impressed with the toughness of his Adrian squad.
“Even with such frequent turnover, they've really bought into what we're trying to do,” Hotopp said. “Them putting their trust in me so quickly is huge. There's been zero pushback on their end. They're having to learn a completely different offense, completely different defense while competing with completely different standards and they haven't complained once.”
While five new head coaches are on the bench this season, Blissfield's Ryan Gilbert returns for his 14th season. He is five wins shy of 200 at Blissfield.
Here’s a team-by-team look at girls basketball in Lenawee County this season:
2020-21: 0-13 (0-12 Cascades Conference)
Coach: Jeffrey Bannon, second year, 0-13
Returning starters: Emily Atkin, Gina Hanson, Allison Beougher.
Player to watch: All three returning starters bring much needed experience to the Panthers, something they haven’t had in a few years. “We will be looking to them to be leaders and build confidence amongst their teammates,” Bannon said.
Rest of the team: Sophia Torres, Rebecca Cuthbertson, Kahlen Wheaton, Ariana Bannon, Alexis Chapman, Kayli Trumble, Lexi Patterson.
Coach says: “We are going to need to limit turnovers, play aggressively, and win games with defense. This is a group of girls that includes six seniors, all of which have varsity experience. We will be a strong defensive team that asserts pressure.”
First game: Monday, vs. Morenci
2020-21: 0-12 (0-8 in SEC-White)
Coach: Sam Hotopp, first year
Returning starters: Jessica Scott, Molly Dempsey and Akkya Campbell.
Player to watch: The Maples have almost everyone back, including seven girls that started at one time or another. “This is a great Senior class for the underclassmen to look up to,” Hotopp said. “I could see any of our top seven being our ‘best player’ on any given night. I love the balance of our team.”
Rest of the team: Morgin White, MaKenna Johnson, Ciara Ernst, Andra Patterson, Jaci Banks, Elaine Gordon, Sydney Hunter. Noel Nelson is a newcomer to the team, but won’t be eligible to lay in games this year due to MHSAA transfer rules.
Coach says: “If we take care of the basketball, limit turnovers, play unselfishly, pass up good shots for great shots and compete at both ends of the floor, we’ll give ourselves a chance in every game.”
Outlook: Hotopp coached at Saline last season, which is among the best teams in the SEC-Red. “I heard a lot about how competitive the SEC-Red is, but I think the SEC White is just as competitive. We also have two games vs SEC-Red opponents this year, so we're going to be tested every week of the season. There's no game on our schedule that we can take lightly.”
First game: Tuesday, at Ida
2020-21: 8-7 (8-4 in Lenawee County Athletic Association)
Coach: Ryan Gilbert, 14th season, 195-83.
Returning starters: Avery Collins, Sarah Bettis, Julia White
Player to watch: Collins had a breakout season as a freshman, earning All-County honors. She’s put in the work in the summer and should have a great season. “She does so much for our team on both ends of the floor that makes everyone better,” Gilbert said. “She has an unreal motor and a fiery attitude.”
Rest of the team: June Miller, Sierra Spallone, Abrie Louden, Maycia Valasek, Addison Martinez, Natalia Wilson, Anna Bris-Bois, Sarah Brewer.
Coach says: “I’ve been very pleased with this group. We’re working on bringing energy, being better each day with our communication, and being great at the things that take no talent.”
First game: Tuesday, vs. Whiteford.
2020-21: 1-14 (1-11 Tri-County Conference)
Coach: Kimerly Gall, first season
Returning starters: Haylie Shiels, Jillian Molnar, Claire Molnar, Sydnee Hazlett, and Cam Fore.
Players to watch: Shiels, Hazlett and Molnar are seniors who have the most experience. “Each bring a different skill set,” Gall said.
Rest of the team: Alivia Salenbien, Alayna Salenbien, Lily Watson, Cam Prielipp, Madison Stetler, Lizzy Thomas, Madelena Arriaga, Kaylee Ahleman.
Coach says: “It is a privilege to coach these young ladies. They are a joy to coach as they are fun; they listen to instruction, and they have good attitudes in their working hard to improve.”
First game: Tuesday at Hillsdale Will Carleton Academy.
2020-21: 8-8 (5-7 Lenawee County Athletic Association)
Coach: Will Bennett, third year, 11-27
Returning starter: Brynn Frederick
Returning players: Emma Fair, Bre Ramos, Noelle Riley
Newcomers: Ruby Sierer (Junior), Griffin Faulkner (Junior), Natalie Abram (Junior), Kendall Phillip (Sophomore), Kyleigh Ramos (Sophomore), Kaylie Livingston (Freshman).
Player to watch: Frederick is an athletic wing who attacks the defense and can score. “She plays hard on both ends of the court,” Bennett said. “It is her third year on the varsity, and she has improved each year.”
Coach says: “Maintaining energy and effort all season while creating chaos on the defensive end of the court is the key to our season.”
First game: Tuesday vs. Manchester
2020-21: 2-12 (1-9 Lenawee County Athletic Association)
Coach: Anthony Barron, second year, 2-12
Returning Starters: Keely Hinzman, Lauren Hill, Dinah Horwath
Other returning players: Simi Parhar, Ally DeLine, Emily Czeiszperger, Klara Wesley.
Parhar is returning from an injury and should give the team a boost.
Rest of the team: Teagan Arredondo, Jewel Sinclaire, Taylor Jones, Nadi Walkowicz, Delani Monahan
Coach says: “We need to make sure we come out ready to play every night in the ultra-competitive LCAA. We will be tested every single night and we need to be sure we come out and battle with everything we have. We have a lot of experience returning from last year. With all that experience also come high expectations. This team works their tails off and are willing to do anything to win.”
First game: Tuesday vs. Pittsford
Coach: Jamie Salenbien, 5th season, 85-10.
Returning Starters: Lizzy Scharer, Kylie Summer, Cara Anderson, Kelsie Lilly, Avery Sluss all started at one time or another last year.
Other returning players: Lauren Swiggum, Isabelle Kirkendall, Rachel Powers, Mya VanEtten
Rest of the team: Hannah Baker, Selah Clymer, Dalay Ojeda
Player to watch: Scharer is a four-year varsity player that Salenbien calls a “lock down defender.”
Coach says: “We have a deep team that is the most athletic bunch I have ever coached. They will be fun to watch."
First game: Tuesday at Athens
2020-21: 12-5 (9-3 Tri-County Conference)
Coach: Javon Jenkins, first year
Returning Starters: Madisyn McDonald, Harley Russell
Other returning players: Haley Patterson, Mallory Palpant, Amber Gonzales
Newcomers: Nevaeh Parish, Kelsey McCarty, Jamairah Powers, Caylan Sower, Annie McDade, Kaylin Wesson, and Kierstyn Brackelmen
Player to watch: A solid two-way player, McDonald had a big season last year and has the most experience on the team.
Coach says: “I have an aggressive group. I have a good mix of girls that can do a little bit of everything. We are young and inexperienced, so I’m sure there will be some growing pains. They are a good group of smart and hardworking young ladies.”
First game: Monday vs. Jonesville
2020-21: 3-13 (2-10 Tri-County Conference)
Coach: Ashley Joughlin, first year
Returning Starters (by name): Rebekah Shoemaker, Libby Rorick, Carolyn Gould.
Player to watch: Rebekah Shoemaker. “She is a great utility player and can play all five positions,” Joughlin said. “She works hard on defense and is aggressive on the boards. She’s a threat as an inside shooter and a post.”
Rest of the team: Josie Zuvers, Kiana Castilo, Rachel Shoemaker, Clarissa Burger, Brea Baumgartner, Leah Rorick, Alyssa Gibbs.
Coach says: “I'm looking to the seniors for leadership this season. They all have plenty of varsity experience and the younger girls will need them to be confident and communicate with them on the floor. They ran a pretty slow game for the past few years and with our lack of size and speed advantage, we need to make sure we are pushing the floor and getting easy baskets in transition whenever possible.”
First game: Monday at Addison
2020-21: 14-4 (11-2 LCAA)
Coach: Brandon Arnold, eighth season, 86-62
Returning Starters: Kaylei Smith, Kennedy Ross.
Other returning players: Kamryn Ross, Brooke Borders, Hailey Freshcorn
Newcomers to the team: Liz Hill, Kara Terakedis, Nicole Harrah, Kylee Bridges, Reed Brogan
Player to watch: Smith is a four-year varsity starter who has committed to Siena Heights.
Coach says: “We have to be good on defense and rebound the ball well. Offensively, we need to push the tempo, but play under control and make good decisions with the ball. We are all about the same size and have a lot of flexibility with positions, both offensively and defensively. Our guards could be very good, and this could be my best shooting team.”
First game: Friday at Napoleon
2020-21: 10-7 (8-4 Tri-County Conference)
Coach: Wayne Perry, first year
Returning Starters: Emily Carbajal, Chelsi Zyla
Rest of the team: Grace Eilliott, Kyle Serin, Jersey Still, Jerzie Robinson, Meredith Vontroba, Elaine Allen, Kendall Allen, Sarah Wheeler, Tanana Emmadorfer.
Player to watch: Carbajal was the Aggies leading scorer and rebounder last year and received All-State mention.
Coach says: “We must replace three four-year varsity players, so we need to stay healthy. We have some solid returning players, but we are down in the number of girls playing.”
First game: Tuesday at Homer
2020-21: 9-7 (2-5 in SEC-White)
Coach: Kristy Zajac, fifth season, 48-30
Returning Starters: Jaden Benschoter, Allie Barrett, Chesney Wilke, Jada Moore
Other returning players: Emma Abbott, Natalie Bullinger
Newcomers to the team: Freshmen Ashlyn Moorehead, Alli Zaja, Madison Morris
Player to watch: Wilke and Benschoter are returning All-SEC and All-County players. The three freshman bring high expectations. Zajac has made some national lists of players to watch.
Coach says: “We had a great summer, playing 30-plus games. This helped tremendously with our team chemistry and just understanding what each player is capable of and how they can help our team be successful. We have a great group this year. We have size, quickness, shooters, great defenders, and rebounders. If we can pull it all together, we can be a very tough team.”
First game: Tuesday at Monroe
This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegram: Lenawee County's girls basketball teams set for year of transition