The Washington girls are typically in the conversation of the Class AA basketball elite, a continuing credit to the Warriors’ ability to adapt and make adjustments.
The Warriors, who return seven seniors, are still among the state’s best, but will have a pair of big shoes to fill. Standout forward Emma Hanson is now playing volleyball at Kansas and point guard Denae Veldkamp has moved on to Mount Marty.
However, putting the puzzle together is the fun part for Coach Nate Malchow.
“You’re trying to find your identity of your team, trying to figure out the sum of your parts and what your strengths are,” said Malchow. “That’s what’s fun because even though we only lost two seniors, every team takes on a little different dynamic.”
The Warriors return three starters from last season, including 6-foot-1 senior forward Sydney Koel, who could make up for the bulk of the production missing from the void left by Hanson. Koel averaged eight points on 44 percent shooting along with 4.9 rebounds as a junior and showed glimpses of a focal point as Hanson missed time with a concussion.
Senior guards Ellie Benson (8.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.6 spg) and Hannah Nieman (6.9 ppg) return on the wings, while Nieman is also a 3-point threat after hitting 38 percent from deep last season.
With those mainstays, the blueprint isn’t likely to change.
“We’ll always lean on our defense,” said Malchow. “We’re going to have to get better on the offensive end as the year goes by. Late last year we just weren’t scoring as many points and it ended up hurting us. It’ll take a lot of our effort to focus on the offensive end.”
Senior Mic Mayer, a Minnesota track and field recruit, is also back after posting 6.5 points and 4.2 rebounds a game last season, while senior Kelsey Knecht will take over the point guard duties as the Warriors look to avoid the offensive woes that kept them from a fourth state title game in six years.
“We have a very experienced and seasoned point guard who can get the ball up the floor in transition and find people,” said Malchow. “Our halfcourt execution needs to improve because those teams that are doing that at the end and are fluid and getting good shots are the ones who are going to have a lot of success.”