The Independence girls basketball program has struggled to find success over the last decade. But the winds may be changing in Coal City.
With an influx of talented middle school players, the program is looking towards greener pastures with the foundation laid last season.
Despite finishing with a losing record, the Patriots found a cornerstone piece in rising sophomore Harmony Mills who provided most of the scoring for Indy last year, including a 41-point showing in only the second game of her career. With Mills firmly in place, the program hopes to take another step this year.
“Harmoy had a great year for us last year,” Ind head coach Mark Cuthbert said. “We put out a lot on her for a freshman and she handled it very well and over this past offseason, she’s really worked on her game and she looks to continue to grow from the experience she had last year. Then you have Alli Hypes who’s a senior for us. She’s seen a lot of varsity action between softball and basketball. So we look for her, through that experience, to be a leader for us because we are going to play a lot of young kids again this year. She was one of our best defensive players last year, can move and she is probably our best athlete on the team. She really came strong towards the end of last year. She ended up being our top rebounder and she was working on an offensive game to become a more rounded player.”
Returning players also include Lillie Jackson, Maddy Nelson, Zoey Bragg, Bailee Bolen, Mackenzie Cadle with the newcomers being Jessica Vandall, Morgan Greer and Lacy Goodson.
The hope is the newcomers can help, coming off a successful middle school run in which they won numerous county titles.
“Lacy Goodson had a tremendous middle school career,” Cuthbert said. “She helped lead them to the two championships. She has a great skill set and continues to work on her game every day. She will be doing all types of things for us. She can score from anywhere when needed. You have Maci Perry who was another good athlete who will solid solidify our post game we just have to give her more confidence.”
Despite recent struggles, there’s new hope in Coal City that this group can be the one to change the culture. Cuthbert’s a believer.
“There’s a sense of excitement, which we haven’t had in a while for the girls basketball program. So we’re hoping to build off last year. We have a 10 win season, you know, but we’ve got to be able to compete on a sectional level. When you got teams like Midland Trail, it gets tougher so we’re hoping to put a product on the court and compete with them.”
For Cuthbert, his young roster will likely take its lumps but has three months worth of games to get ready for the postseason when the game matters. That said, he has a clear philosophy he’d like his team to lean on.
“I’ve always been a firm believer in defense wins championships,” Cuthbert said. “So we have to win on the defensive floor. We have to be the tough team. We have to evolve. Now I expect this team to do it by February. We’re going to have some growing pains playing a lot of young kids but if they continue to work like they have the sky’s the limit.”