Basketball

Williamston basketball standout finding way in new role

Maddie Waters, 4, of Williamston pushes the ball up the sideline after a Grand Rapids South Christian turnover during their Class B regional semifinal game last season. Watters, a three-year varsity starter, has helped the Hornets get out to an 8-1 record in the 2016-17 season.

Maddie Waters, 4, of Williamston pushes the ball up the sideline after a Grand Rapids South Christian turnover during their Class B regional semifinal game last season. Watters, a three-year varsity starter, has helped the Hornets get out to an 8-1 record in the 2016-17 season.

WILLIAMSTON – Just when it seemed like Renee Sturm and Maddie Watters were reaching their peak as a backcourt tandem, Sturm’s time with the Williamston girls basketball team expired.

Last year, the guards combined to average over 30 points per game and helped the Hornets maintain a spot in the Class B state rankings before their season was ended by No. 3-ranked Grand Rapids South Christian in the regional semifinals.

Watters knew the time would come when she would be without her partner in crime. She knew it wouldn’t last long when she was in middle school, watching Sturm, a State Journal Dream Teamer last season and freshman on the Ferris State women’s basketball team, play her first two years on varsity.

That time finally came this season, and Watters, a junior, has undergone a role reversal as she’s helped No. 2-ranked Williamston maintain its position as one of the state’s elite. Her new backcourt running mate is Kenzie Lewis, a freshman guard, who is the younger sister of the school’s all-time leading boys scorer, Riley Lewis, and the Hornets (9-1, 3-0 CAAC White) have found a way to make it work.

“With Kenzie coming, she can score, but she’s more of a pass-and-go kind of girl,” said Watters, who is a three-year varsity starter. “Renee had more of the scoring aspect, so I knew I had to step up that (part of my game) a little bit. And, also, the role of taking care of the ball more, because even though Kenzie was coming, she’s still a freshman and there would be times when she hasn’t experienced certain things that I have.

“(My role) has switched a little bit.”

Watters’ role is nearly identical to that of Sturm’s when the two started playing together Watters’ freshman season. The two grew to play off of one another and became a tantalizing scoring duo. Now, she’s hoping to develop that chemistry with Lewis, who often watched Watters on varsity as a middle school student the past two years.

But, this season, for Williamston to avoid a setback and make another deep postseason push, it’s going to rely on Watters handling the nigh-to-night attention from opposing teams, which she earned after a strong sophomore season, while helping the younger players establish themselves on the floor.

She’s dealt with it well so far, averaging about 18 points per game and finding ways to become a decoy.

“For shots at the end of games or if we need (a basket), it’s me getting set up,” said Watters, who has Division I offers from Western Michigan, Ball State and St. Bonaventure. “But, at the same time, when I’m face guarded, I’ll be the one taking the defense away and it will leave everyone else open. It gives everyone else the opportunity to get a basket.”

Peplowski’s love for hoops came without father’s push

During her first two years on varsity, Watters earned the reputation as a long-distance shooter, as she led the Lansing area in 3-pointers made last season with over 60. This season, coach Pete Cool said his guard has taken her offensive game to the next level.

“She’s known as a 3-point shooter, but she’s pretty good at going to the basket, getting fouled or making a move in the paint,” Cool said. “She’s getting better at that. And if someone is wide open, she’s good at getting everyone involved.”

With Watters going on three years of varsity experience, she’s also accepted the leadership role. Lewis said Watters’ big-game experience has been where the veteran guidance has shown most this season.

“She puts everything in place and it goes from there,” Lewis said.

Cool expects there to continue to be speed bumps along the way if the Hornets are going to be able to accomplish the goals they set at the beginning of the year. And even though this group is full of underclassmen, those in the program believe it can all come together sooner rather than later.

Laingsburg opens atop AP girls basketball poll

“Losing Renee, she (did a lot of scoring), but the freshman have brought in a different type of play,” Watter said. “The two seniors put in points that will get us far.

“We have a lot of improvements we can make, but we can still make it pretty far.”

Contact James L. Edwards III at jledwards@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.