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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Angola’s Claire Grubb, falling to the floor in a game last season against Carroll, averaged 14.1 points per game a year ago.

Key players back across league

Coaches see dogfight for conference

Eastside coach Shane Conwell had a whirlwind first season.

His first experience with the team was its first game. The squad wound up going 1-20 and 0-10 in the NECC. But for all the struggles, he noticed something promising in his group.

Most of them were coming back.

“We’ve got some good returning underclassmen,” Conwell said. “This summer was much, much better. They got from Point A to Point B so much quicker, and that helps in all aspects.”

His team isn’t the only one, though. As Conwell waded his way through his first stint in the NECC, he noticed plenty of great players who were moving on after the 2012-13 season, but even more who would be sticking around.

“Every game that we play is a tough opponent,” he said.

“What I saw last year was, a lot of the good players still have a few years to go. That in and of itself makes it a tough conference to play in for years to come.”

Every team that looks like a contender for the NECC crown has a double-digit scorer returning, as do some teams looking to move up in the conference standings.

Angola, for example, lost four seniors but returns junior Claire Grubb, who was second on the team with 14.1 points per game last season. Fremont has both its leaders back in senior Miranda White (12 points, 9.1 rebounds) and sophomore Shea Rhonehouse (11 points, 6.7 rebounds). And West Noble, which also looks to compete for a championship, has senior Kelsie Peterson’s 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and four assists back.

“I think Kelsie’s one of the most outstanding players in the area, and it’s going to be good having her on our side,” said West Noble coach Dale Marano, who thinks this group will be strong despite losing Haley Richardson, who had 14.9 points and eight rebounds as a senior, to Ball State. “I think one of the reasons we might be picked near the top is because we have those good numbers returning, and it’s going to allow us to have great depth this year.”

Westview, Fairfield and Prairie Heights also have solid cores returning. Angola, despite losing much of its production, can’t be counted out either.

John Berger’s team hasn’t lost an NECC game in two years.

“I can put five girls on the floor that can actually shoot the three, even from the center spot. I didn’t have that luxury last year,” he said. “We’re going to be pretty good on that aspect, but we’re young, and so we’re going to have to grow and learn and make the correct decisions and so forth.

“I expect early on some ups and downs until we figure each other out.”

Most teams will have that same learning curve, too, as they all lost at least one or two key pieces from the 2012-13 season. But coaches like Lynford Yoder of Central Noble, which went 3-18 last year and 2-8 in conference play, see an opportunity to grow thanks to strong returning players and adjusting new pieces into the mold.

“The NECC, it’s going to be interesting this year. We’d like to break into that upper half of the conference this year, and I think we can,” he said. “It’s a good year for us to kind of take advantage of, and hopefully we can get some surprising wins. That’s something that we haven’t done yet since I’ve been a coach there, so I’m looking forward to that.”