MINONK – With just one player standing over 5-foot-9, Fieldcrest is likely to play at least three guards and potentially up to four for most of the 32 minutes that constitutes a regulation basketball game.
Besides that, the Knights graduated three starters off a squad that won a program-best 23 out of 31 games. Fieldcrest lost 53-39 to Peoria Christian (21-9) in the El Paso-Gridley Regional final. The trio included two-time first team Heart of Illinois Conference selection in forward Gwen Lohr-Fandel (14.5 points per game, 6.6 rebounds and 4.1 steals), forward Kianna Klendworth (10.7 ppg, 9.2 rebounds) and guard Claire Weers (8 ppg, 5.1 assists).
“We got a lot from Gwen, Kianna and Claire. They (were) three important pieces,” commented third-year head coach Mitch Neally. “Replacing those girls will be difficult, but we have some girls back. They’re roles are going to be different.”
Juniors Lexi Jochums, who was named to the league’s all-defensive team, and Leah White return in the backcourt. White entered the starting five in mid-January when 5-10 senior forward Emma Lorton (6.9 ppg) sat out the last 10 games with an ankle injury. The season before, she missed the final month with a concussion. The Knights averaged 50 ppg in 2016-17. They lost 73 percent of their offense.
“I think a lot of our offense will come from our defense,” offered Neally. “We’ll try to push the tempo and pressure the ball.”
Joining those three in the starting five, according to Neally, will be junior forward Addie Goodrich and junior guard Madi Hock.
Defensively, Fieldcrest permitted an average of 38.4 ppg a season ago.
Neally’s plan is to throw in both player-to-player and zone.
“I think we’re going to mix it up,” commented Neally, who has a 39-21 record at Fieldcrest. “If we have to adjust to a zone, we will.”
Eureka (27-3, 13-0) is the reigning HOIC and McLean County tournament champion. The Hornets appear to be the team to beat again.
“They’re the clearcut favorite,” said Neally, who added Heyworth and Ridgeview among possible challengers. “It’s always fun in the conference.”
The Knights, who tied for the third in the league last year with Ridgeview (23-6), do not have a lot of numbers as only 16 girls are out in the entire program.
“We only have one senior out, but it’s a good group of girls,” said Neally. “It’s a group of girls who are pushing each other.”
The Knights open the Flanagan-Woodland-Cornell Classic on Monday with a 5:30 p.m. contest versus Ottawa Marquette. The remainder of the schedule is as follows (all non-tournament games will tip off @ 7 p.m. unless noted):
Tuesday: 5:30 p.m. vs. Serena in F-W-C Falcon Classic
Thursday: 7 p.m. @ F-W-C in F-W-C Falcon Classic
Nov. 21: vs. Roanoke-Benson, 6 p.m. (varsity only)
Nov. 27: vs. Heyworth*
Nov. 30: vs. Tri-Valley* @ Downs
Dec. 4: @ Lexington*
Dec. 7: @ F-W-C*
Dec. 11: vs. GCMS*
Dec. 12: vs. Putnam County
Dec. 14: vs. Ridgeview*
Dec. 27-29: Peru St. Bede Bruin Classic
Jan. 2: vs. Blue Ridge,* 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 4: vs. LeRoy*
Jan. 8: @ Eureka*
Jan. 11: @ EP-G*
Jan. 13 & 15-20: McLean County tourney
Jan. 22: @ Fisher*
Jan. 25: @ Tremont*
Jan. 29: @ Midland
Feb. 1: vs. Deer Creek-Mackinaw*
Feb. 5-8: Regional
Notes: The F-W-C Classic replaces the Prairie Central Invitational on the schedule. Fieldcrest will play F-W-C twice and possibly up to four times this season. Mindy Whitehouse will be coaching at her third HOIC school. She was at Ridgeview before a stint at Pontiac. The past two seasons she was at GCMS and is now at Blue Ridge, who is in a rookie co-op with Deland-Weldon. Last year, D-W was in a co-op with Ridgeview. Keri Dornbusch has replaced Whitehouse at GCMS, while Matt Thomann takes over at DCM.