BROOKSVILLE – Size was the strength of the Bracken County girls’ basketball team last year.
But the post presence of Madison Kalb and Korbin Florer, who combined to average 17.5 points and 16.2 rebounds last season, won’t be there this winter.
Instead, the 2017-2018 Lady Bears, who are now coached by Sam Elsbernd, will rely on guards Kinley Ruf, Kennedy Carl and Jaya Dawson to carry to majority of the workload in hopes of regaining the 10th Region All “A” Classic crown and earning a second straight berth to the 10th Region Tournament.
“I’m not a big ‘You’re a guard, you’re a forward’ kind of guy, but Kinley, Kennedy and Jaya – they can handle the ball and they can put it in the hole,” said Elsbernd. “Kinley’s a four-year starter. Kennedy started some as an eighth grader and she’s in her third year as a starter. I’m really excited about Jaya. She’s young, but she’s very athletic and she comes in here and she’s kind of got this – she really is a sweet person, but when she walks on that court, it’s just like all right, for the next two hours I’m going to be tenacious about this.”
Ruf enters the year as one of only two seniors on the team - the other being Kaitlyn Wills - and one of the most experienced players. She was the second leading scorer on last year’s squad, averaging 9.8 points per game, an increase from her 7.5 points per game as a sophomore and 7.6 as a freshman. She shot nearly 34 percent from three-point range.
“I’m more comfortable with it. I’ve had the most experience,” said Ruf. “I know how to handle the pressure.”
As a junior, Ruf also averaged four rebounds per game, the next highest total on the team after Kalb and Florer, and knows that is an area the Lady Bears will need to all work on.
“We’ve lost rebounding for sure,” said Ruf. “We’re all going to have to step up, every single one of us, and do our own thing.”
Carl, a junior this year, was right behind Ruf in scoring last year, averaging 8.7 points over 25 games. She’s hoping to handle pressure better and become more of a leader for the younger Lady Bears.
“I’m just trying to boost our teammates up, our underclassmen, and help them out,” said Carl. “Me and Kinley kind of take the role of being the leaders on the team this year.”
Dawson played sparingly as a freshman under coach Deron Ray last season, but Elsbernd believes she’ll be on the floor a lot more this winter. She was able to pick up some experience last season, appearing in seven games and averaging 1.7 points, and has been aided by the upperclassmen.
“They’ve helped me a lot. It’s a lot different playing eighth grade up to varsity,” said Dawson. “Eighth grade we were all in the same age group, then when I came up to varsity it was a lot more competitive and they’re really good.
“It was tough at first, but I’m used to it now,” added Dawson.
The forwards received much of the attention of opposing teams in recent years, but the pressure will likely be switching over to the Bracken backcourt.
“There probably is pressure on them, if we’re being honest, in terms of who other teams are going to focus on? Yeah. But in terms of who we’re putting more pressure on? No,” said Elsbernd. “The ball is probably going to be in their hands a lot of times. They’re going to be counted on to make plays for our offense, not only for each other, but for other teammates.”
The first-year Bracken County head coach doesn’t have one single player picked out to run the offense, but is hoping they can all learn to play together to put together a strong combination of offense and defense that will lead to a successful season.
“We’re just going to play. They all say, ‘Who’s your point guard?’ Whoever’s got it in their hand at that point in time. We’re big on spacing. Those three have gotten the concept of it. I expect us to win games because of our defense, but I think we have three guards that can at least somewhat break down a defense, and if they play unselfishly - we talk to them all the time about it - if you’re willing to make that extra pass to her, or to another teammate, they’re going to be willing to make it to you,” said Elsbernd. “I think those three guards can really be effective for us.”
The Lady Bears open the season at Bishop Brossart on Nov. 27.