The best girls basketball season in program history is a tough act to follow, but for third-year Kiel coach Jeremy Bushman, it’s just another year to improve a team that has gotten better every year since he began coaching the Raiders.
Topping last year’s 16-8 overall finish is a lofty goal, but Bushman said he fully expects his squad to compete for an Eastern Wisconsin Conference and be in the top three of the standings when the regular season comes to a close.
“I think we believe that, considering where we came from when I got here, we will be able to continue the program’s upward swing and we believe we are a top-three team and can contend for a conference title,” Bushman said. “There’s a very good possibility that the team that wins the conference will have a number of losses, because the top teams could be beating each other on any given night, so we want to obviously up the number wins (from last season) and set another school record.”
The biggest road block to a conference title for Kiel could be its overall depth. The squad has 10 players but largely they are inexperienced, with a noticeable drop off between the starters and the bench players. Having his starters getting into foul trouble early in games is a concern for Bushman, but he hopes that won’t be an issue and the rest of the team’s strengths will emerge as its identity.
“I think our overall height, along with the athleticism we have to go with that height, will cause matchup troubles for teams along the way. Our ability to get out and guard people and get out into transition is a lot better compared to last year,” Bushman said. “I hope that if we have trouble scoring with the basketball that our athleticism will help counteract that a little bit.”
Sophomore Sierra Roehrig is one players Bushman said has been a pleasant surprise early in the season with her defensive ability and being a lockdown defender. Bushman said he has seen considerable improvement from last season out of junior Madeline Dahmer, who he described as a consistent outside threat.
But the biggest surprise for Kiel may come in the form of senior Harmony Wusterbarth, who is making her return to the basketball court after last playing in eighth grade. Bushmann said he had heard from people how great of an athlete Wusterbarth is and how great of a basketball player she could be, but admittedly he was skeptical until he saw her in action for the first time.
“She is just a pure athlete,” Bushman said of Wusterbarth. “Despite being away from the game as long as she has, she had caught on fast and is definitely going to be a big part of our team this year. She gives us depth at the post positions and she is athletic enough to get out and guard any perimiter player.”
Helping Bushman manage his team’s athleticism and developing its younger players will be newly-added assistant coaches Galen La Duke — who has joined the staff as the JV coach with 15 years of experience coaching at Oostburg — and Dan Coopman, who joins the staff after many years of coaching experience at various area schools, including the varsity boys team at Sheboygan South.
The Raiders, though, are still looking for a vocal leader and go-to scorer like it did last season with then-senior Erin Schuler. Schuler led by example on and off the court and while her absence is not something easy to overcome, the unanimous first team All-EWC selection made a lasting impression on her underclassmen teammates.
“I use Erin as an example a lot and the kids who players with her know how it is and know what I mean. I have seen more kids diving for lose balls and getting after it this year than I ever have in my previous two years,” Bushman said. “They realize putting in the extra effort and doing the little things goes a long way. Even last year, we weren’t the most talented team, but at crunch time we did the little things and got after it defensively and those kids are buying into being able to make up for lack of talent and skills by doing the little things. We will out-hustle teams and do the little things to be successful.”