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Girls Enjoyed Best Season in 20 Years; Lady Panther Basketball Has Returned
March 18, 2009 - An early-season loss on the road against a Sectional 42 rival ended up being a catalyst for the Knightstown varsity girls basketball team this past season.
Back in December, coach Dawn Basicker’s Lady Panthers fell to Centerville 60-55. The loss dropped the girls’ record to 2-3 on the season, but opened up a new window of opportunity for the team.
In that Centerville game, Knightstown had to change up its defense when senior Sabrina Hatfield went to the bench. Basicker went with more speed on the defensive side, and that changed up the way teams had to play the Lady Panthers.
Knightstown had already taken it on the chin against ranked teams Hagerstown and Winchester, and the Centerville would have had the team reeling if it not for the lineup change that increased the team’s overall speed.
But the early-season brutality of the schedule did one more thing to the Lady Panthers. The level of talent on the schedule made the girls pick up their intensity and immediately made them a better team.
After that loss to the Lady Bulldogs, Knightstown turned the season around. A setback to Triton central left the team 6-5, before they won their last nine games and finished the season with a 15-6 record.
That was the best year turned in by a Lady Panther team during the Basicker era, and marked the most wins by a Knightstown girls basketball team since the 1980s. The girls did that while playing against a schedule that was one of the more difficult in the school’s recent history. The combined records of the teams who handed the Lady Panthers their six losses this season was 110-25, with four sectional titles between them.
“I think the Centerville game was the big turning point for us this year,” Basicker said. “We fell behind by 12 points and Sabrina went to the bench. We began to use the press more and to trap more, and we had a smaller, quicker lineup. We also would use Danielle Altman to guard the other team’s best player in the first half, and then switch and put Megan Hiner against that player.
“It changed the look of our defense and made us one of the better defensive teams in the area.”
Three seniors on the Knightstown roster didn’t complete their goal of winning a sectional title, but they did play key roles in the most successful girls team since Basicker took over the program.
Sabrina Hatfield, Natosha Hiner and Jocelyn Sturgill will be some big shoes to fill next season. Hatfield averaged 9.4 points and five rebounds per game her senior year. Hiner put up 7.7 points per game and Sturgill averaged 4.5 points and had a team-high 14 blocked shots.
“We’re losing a lot with those girls because of their experience,” Basicker said. “We had a group of seniors who really understood the system. They had a clear understanding of what we did and why we did it. It usually takes kids a couple of years in this system to really comprehend what we want them to do, and those three seniors understood that.”
After a double-overtime loss to Lapel left the Knightstown girls with a 4-4 mark, the team saw the light and turned the corner. An emotional win over traditional state power Greenfield-Central at home and in overtime sparked the team even further.
The girls crushed Wes-Del to move to 6-4, but then fell flat on December 27 in a disappointing loss at (16-6) Triton Central.
“That was not a good game,” Basicker said. “It was between the holidays and when I saw some of our girls sitting in the stands and yawning during the JV game I knew we were in trouble.”
Following that lackadaisical loss to the Lady Tigers, Knightstown stood at 6-5 during the holiday break. The girls had been playing sporadic basketball, not looking good on some nights and playing extremely well on others.
That all changed after the holidays with the more aggressive defense and quicker lineup.
Seven of those first 11 games had been on the road, and Knightstown had been 4-0 in the friendly confines of the KHS gymnasium. On the road, it had been a different story as the team had struggled with a 2-5 record.
The team returned home in January for the start of a five-game home stand and not one time did the girls disappoint the home fans. The Lady Panthers would win all six of their remaining home games and complete the season with a perfect 10-0 regular season mark at home. Their only home court loss would come in the sectional against Hagerstown.
Knightstown also dominated their opponents during the second half of the season. The girls started that five-game home stand by whipping North Decatur by 14 points and then stomping Eastern Hancock by 33.
Union County was plastered by 17 points and then Cambridge City Lincoln was shot down by 13 points. Those dominating wins improved the team to 10-5 on the season and set up a showdown with arch-rival Shenandoah, whom the Lady Panthers had not defeated since the 1995 season.
The Lady Raiders became the 11th victim of the season and it wasn’t even a good game. Knightstown won 49-34 and followed that up with a 40-point win at Morristown to maintain great momentum heading down the stretch toward the state tournament.
The Lady Panthers won their last home game against Tri High and closed out the season with a road win at Waldron. That improved their girls’ record to 14-5 and marked their ninth consecutive win.
Knightstown entered tournament play at Cambridge City having not lost a game in two months.
After disposing of Shenandoah for the second time this season in the opening round, the girls ran into a big and talented Hagerstown five in the semifinals, snapping their 10-game winning streak and ending one of the most successful Lady Panther seasons in decades.
“Ultimately, we were beaten by a better team,” Basicker said. “As good as Hagerstown was defensively, and some said they were one of the best defensive teams in the state, I thought that we were right up there with them. They had one player who just dominates the game (Katelyn Lakes) and she pretty much took control that night.”
Next year, fans of Knightstown girls basketball have a lot to look forward to. The 2009-10 Lady Panthers will be a much quicker group with a lot of experience returning despite losing those three seniors to graduation.
Heading the list of returning talent will be this year’s team leaders in scoring, steals and assists. Sophomore Megan Hiner averaged 15.5 points, nearly four steals and more than 3.5 assists this season. She also grabbed nearly five rebounds per game and blocked 11 shots.
Hiner will probably be on several pre-season publication and Website all-state teams next year and will be one of the top players in East-Central Indiana. And she’ll have plenty of help.
Junior Danielle Altman showed throughout the season that she is as dependable as anyone on the court. Altman averaged 6.5 points and pulled down 104 rebounds, second only to Hatfield’s 105 on the Lady Panther team.
Freshman Kaelee Kuhn averaged 6.2 points and showed many of the same characteristics as Megan Hiner did during her freshman season. Sophomore Brittany Brown averaged 3.8 points per game and should come into her own next year.
Junior Haley Cruse and a collection of sophomores will likely made next year’s Lady Panther team even better than the 15-game winner Knightstown fans were treated to this season. Megan Chew, Hannah Smith, Sarah Whiteside and Haley Morgan will all be competing for varsity playing time next year.
“Megan Chew is probably our most improved player this season,” Basicker said. “We kept her on the junior varsity to give her playing time and she took advantage of that.
“Next year we’ll be quicker and faster defensively, but we won’t be big at all. We’ve got a core of some key people coming back that will enable us to be competitive with most of the people on our schedule.
“Kaelee (Kuhn) was steady all season long and Megan (Hiner) really became a good player over the course of the season,” Basicker said. “Kaelee will be more active in our offense next year. Danielle Altman did a lot of things well on both offense and defense, and Brittany Brown has the potential to play very well. Those girls give a good nucleus from which to build.”
With a core of nine players returning, as well as the potential of having three of the best players in the area in Hiner, Altman and Kuhn, Knightstown appears in pretty good shape to challenge that 15-win total put up this season.
“We didn’t win the sectional title, which is always a goal going into the season,” Basicker said. “But we did have some pretty big wins over some schools we haven’t beaten in along time. I would say that winning 15 games and beating Greenfield, Cambridge City and Shenandoah twice was a pretty good year.”
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