When discussing his team’s outlook prior to the start of this season, Kiel girls basketball coach Jeremy Bushman didn’t mince his words.
“To be truthful, I would be disappointed if we weren’t in the top two and competing for a conference title in the last few weeks of the year,” Bushman said back in November.
While the home stretch of the season may be a few weeks away, the Raiders are in a position to be right where their coach hoped they would be. Kiel currently sits at 6-4 overall and 5-1 in the Eastern Wisconsin Conference, deadlocked with Plymouth for the league lead.
Things are looking good for the Raiders who are winners of six of their last seven including victories over the Panthers and third-place Two Rivers. But that wasn’t always the case.
“The way the season started, I was a little worried that what I said in the paper was going to come back to haunt me,” Bushman said. “We started the year 0-3 and I wasn’t sure where we were going to go with that.”
Injuries and illnesses were among the factors that left Kiel with just seven available players for the first few games.
“They’ve really battled back and focused on the things that hurt us in the first few games,” Bushman said. “Now that we’re getting healthy, some of our strengths are definitely coming to the forefront.”
When firing on all cylinders, Kiel looks to ratchet up the pressure defensively with a mix of the full and half-court press. While it can be difficult to keep players fresh with that style of play, the Raiders’ depth helps combat potential fatigue.
“The last three, four, even five games, I’ve been able to go 10, 11 deep, sometimes even 12 deep every quarter,” Bushman said. “It shows in the fourth quarter. With four or five minutes to go in the game, I’m able to put fresh legs out to finish things out whereas other teams are maybe not quite as fresh.”
Offensively, the Raiders feature the conference’s leading scorer; sophomore Cassie Schweitzer is averaging 17 points per game.
“I think any coach would tell you it’s great to have a player with her ability and her strengths. I’m going to be real honest, I don’t think we’ve seen all of her potential yet,” Bushman said. “She’s only a sophomore. She has some learning to do.”
The offensive attack is also aided by the team’s chemistry.
“This is the best group I’ve had in terms of team camaraderie,” Bushman said. “At times, we’re almost too unselfish, we’re over-passing the basketball. Which is a great problem to have.”
As well as things are going for Kiel, the players haven’t lost perspective. The Raiders have eight conference games remaining, including a date with Waupun on Friday night. The Warriors are the only team that has defeated the Raiders in EWC play this season.
“This is a hungry group,” said Bushman. “They know that we have to play (Plymouth) one more time. They know we have to play Two Rivers one more time. This group is staying focused and they know what they have to do to get to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I am very fortunate to have a level-headed group of kids.”
Bushman believes that if the Raiders remain as focused as they have been during the first 10 games of the season they will continue to flourish.
“I think we just need to keep the mindset that we’ve had. We need to improve on every drill in practice,” Bushman said. “As long as we are taking steps forward, we’ll be successful. This group does not look past anybody.”
1. Roncalli (10-1, 8-0)
2. Valders (10-1, 7-1)
3. Reedsville (7-4, 4-4)
4. Two Rivers (6-5 3-3)
1. Reedsville (8-1, 6-1)
2. Two Rivers (7-1, 4-1)
3. Kiel (6-4, 5-1)
4. Manitowoc Lutheran (6-4, 5-3)