Central girls will focus on what they can control to return to the playoffs

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Members of the Central girls basketball team are (front, left to right) Delaney Scherf, Maci Keppler, Grace Kuehl, Oakley Armstrong, Makayla Erickson, Katie Royer, Brooklyn Amsden;(back) Brooke Tieden, Ashlyn Scherf, Haley Frieden, Lexi Loan, Hannah Asche, Gracie Cummer, Aly Feickert and Layla Embretson.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


In his 16 years as Central girls basketball coach, Mark Wiley has seen the ups and downs and experienced both winning seasons and losing ones, but he has never lost the joy to coach and the preparation it takes to create a successful program. 


It’s what took the team to a deep playoff run last season, ending in the semifinals in a low scoring affair against East Buchanan. But the 19-5 record was the second highest win percentage achieved in the Wiley era, so heading into this season, one would expect some added pressure to better that mark or at least match it. For Wiley, a self-described “straight-laced coach,” there isn’t any “added pressure,” though. 


The reason Wiley believes this is because he instills a philosophy that focuses on what you can control, with the understanding that everything else will work itself out through focusing on the task at hand. That’s winning basketball games and instilling the idea that hard work—at practice especially—will pay dividends come game time. It’s also about believing in the concept of a team, and this team will go as far as its upperclassmen take it.


That group is led by seniors Delaney Scherf and Haley Frieden, the top two scorers, blockers and rebounders from a season ago. They are joined by several other returning seniors in Lexi Loan and Hannah Asche, who both provide value in every facet of the game. 


Several juniors, some of whom played important roles last season, join this group. Ashlyn Scherf and Grace Kuehl were two of the team’s best shooters and rebounders. In fact, Kuehl, as a sophomore, was third in points scored, while Scherf was fourth. 


Beyond their presence on the court, the upperclassmen will also be “relied on for good leadership off the court,” and helping the “younger players become more comfortable and successful in whatever role they play,” Wiley said. 


To make another playoff run, Central will need more than solid leadership, though it is a necessary objective. The Warriors will need to improve in a few areas, most notably in shooting percentage in general, including free throws, which was just 61 percent last season. They will also need to ramp up the pressure on defense, as Wiley put it, to create more turnovers and points in transition. 


In addressing the free throw issue, Wiley pointed out that a number of players spent time during the offseason to improve that percentage, but this is a deficiency he believes can be overcome with more playing time. 


“Having more experience on the floor will hopefully make us have a comfortability to step to the free throw line and knock down free throws to secure some victories,” he said. 


The offense will look to generate higher percentage shots as well, but Wiley reiterated, as he has done in previous seasons, that the team will not shy away from the three-point shot. That’s evidenced by the fact the Warriors shot 396 last season, which was easily the most in the conference. 


This year, though, Central will look to have more of a presence in the post and around the rim, with the return of Aly Feickert, Ashlyn Scherf and Gracie Cummer. There will be an added emphasis on trying to incorporate more players on offense, where Delaney Scherf and Frieden provided the one-two offensive punch last season. 


“Looking forward to seeing the wrinkles of our set plays to incorporate more in our offense,” Wiley said. 


Defensively, the Warriors will lean on those seniors to increase pressure, force turnovers, score in transition and just be a nuisance for other teams. While Wiley didn’t provide details as to how the team will ramp up the pressure, he stated it is a main goal. 


The addition of assistant coach Ashley Funk should help in this regard. Funk is a Central graduate, spent four years playing for Loras College and, according to Wiley, “has a wealth of knowledge in the game of basketball, especially on the defensive end.” That knowledge, as well as her connection to the players, should lead to the results the Warriors will need to get past the tougher opponents on the schedule. MFL MarMac, for example, beat the Warriors twice last season by close margins, and out-scored Central in the fourth period in both games. 


Of course, this again harkens back to the notion of leadership. Without it, this team will only go as far as the three-point shot takes them. This is why Wiley called leadership essential. 


“There will be tough days, but as a team we need to persevere through those tough times by realizing everybody’s worth to the team. Mentality is so important on whether you will or won’t do something successfully,” he added. 


One of the ways this program has continued its success season after season is the quality of its leadership, not just on the court from the players in uniform, but also from the coaching staff, the parents intertwined in the success of the players and the community at large, who invest in the team every time they sit in the stands and cheer. 


This is where the motivation to improve emanates from.


The Warriors begin their season against MFL MarMac on Nov. 22. The home tip-off is scheduled after the conclusion of the JV game, which starts at 6:15 p.m.

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