SOUTH WHITLEY — Replacing two 1,000-point career scorers is the first challenge new head Rick Bragg has in leading the Whitko girls basketball program this year.
The Lady Wildcats went 21-5 last year, losing to Central Noble in the sectional title game.
Seniors Aly Reiff and Brianna Cumberland were each four-year starters who topped the 1,000-point mark last year.
“We need to find our go-to players,” said Bragg. “We have a few good shooters, but they were never expected to score a lot of points. The team is trying to find its identity, but they are doing the same as individuals, too.”
The Lady Wildcats will rely on Emalee Duggins and Anna Osley to score more points this season.
“Dugggins is the emotional leader of this team,” the coach said. “She’s a very competitive person. Ousley also has a good-looking shot. She has what it takes, but she’ll have to build the confidence within herself.”
The Lady Wildcats only return one starter in Ellie Snep, who averaged just over five points and three rebounds per game.
“She (Snep) was just a sophomore last season, so they didn’t use her to score a lot, but we’ll need that of her this season.”
Bragg is a veteran coach. He was an assistant coach for Columbia City starting in 1983, before moving to the Atlanta metropolitan area in 1987. He coached there for 30 years before returning back to his home state.
“I always wanted to move back to Indiana to be closer to my family,” said Bragg. “It just so happened Whitko was looking for a girls basketball coach, English teacher and yearbook advisor. I had experience in all three. Sometimes when you’re in the right place at the right time it all works out.
“I’m very exciting to coach back in Indiana. It’s good to get back to some Hoosier Hysteria. Basketball was a second thought down in Georgia, since everyone is so invested in football. It’s good to be back in Indiana where basketball is king.”
Bragg wants to use coaching style to build this year’s team.
“I want to bring enthusiasm and some passion and the understanding if they want to compete, they will have to be fundamentally sound, and that’s something we have really worked on,” said Bragg. “We have good athlete, it’s just a matter of turning that athletic ability into basketball skill. I’m in a good spot, because if you have the athletes, you can coach the fundamentals. You can’t really make anyone athletic, so we’re in pretty good shape.”
Bragg says that he likes what he’s seen from the team. “I really like their attitude. They understand the legacy and expectation of Whitko girls basketball. They don’t duck and hide from it. They know it’s their time to step up, and it’s their shot now. They play very hard.”
Bragg likes the team’s potential this year and doesn’t want to compare the team to the previous year.
“Last year’s team was very talented and experienced,” said Bragg “This group wants to form its own identity and they don’t want to be compared to last year’s team, because that would be an unfair comparison. Any success they will have this year will be due to their work ethic and desire.”