By Dennis Glade
Washington Times Herald
Through defense all things are possible for the North Daviess girls’ basketball team, it’s who they are.
Standing at 8-1, the Class A No. 11 Cougars are one win shy of last year’s win total of nine. Head coach Ron Knepp said before the season the goal for regular season wins was 15, which at the time seemed like a lofty goal considering the 9-14 finish last year.
One factor those outside of the program took for granted was the veteran experience that has been building for the last three years.
In his fourth year as the Cougars head coach, Knepp has a 26-48 record, but if you look closer he has been building something special in Elnora. In his first two seasons, he won a combined nine games, and last season he equaled the first two years with a nine win season. Along the way, the key contributors on this year’s North Daviess team got experience, took their lumps and now are playing with a wealth of confidence.
“I can’t stress enough, Larynda Keith, Meghan Knepp, Sabra Smith all started on varsity as freshman,” Ron Knepp said. “Larynda is a senior; Meghan (Knepp) and Sabra (Smith) are juniors. That experience that they got back then as freshman they are using now. It is a huge benefit with the minutes they got back then. Back then we got beat, our record was not good. As a young team we didn’t win a lot of ball games getting that experience, but now that experience is paying off.”
While getting key contributions from Keith, Meghan Knepp and Smith, the Cougars have a new batch of young players that are getting to learn on the fly. Sophomore Taylor Mallett and freshmen Sarah Fitzgerald and Brooke Moore are the future of the program, and unlike the current upperclassmen, are winning and learning at the same time. Ron Knepp thinks this will lead to success going forward past this year.
The 8-1 start, however hasn’t come without bumps in the road. After starting the season 5-0, North Daviess fell 34-18 at home to Washington, a game that Ron Knepp thought was a measuring stick for his team and has a direct correlation to the biggest win of the season thus far.
“It allowed us look at things Washington did as a team, and as individuals,” Ron Knepp said. “We picked out some Washington players and things they did fundamentally, and it showed us what we were not doing very well. It brought a light to several things.”
Following the loss to the Hatchets, the Cougars won road games against Eminence and North Central in convincing fashion.
North Daviess then got everybody’s attention with an upset of then Class A No. 4 Barr-Reeve at Kavanaugh Kourt, defeating the Vikings 39-29, and 26-12 in the second half. While it just counted as one win in a game that the Vikings were without Cori Cummings and Hannah Bullock, Ron Knepp said the victory was great psychologically for his team.
“When you have not had a lot of success in the past, while playing younger players you need to win games to gain confidence,” Ron Knepp said. “Last year is where that started; we started winning games that we were not favored to win. The first one was Bloomfield, they’re in our conference and we hadn’t beaten them in a number of years. That started the run at the end of the year, we get into sectional, and they make it to the sectional final game. When they got to the sectional final game, they got a confidence that made them think anything is possible.”
The cornerstone of Ron Knepp’s message has been defense first, and his preseason goal was to rank in the top 25 in the state in defensive scoring average. Through nine games, the Cougars are allowing 23.7 points per game, which is good for second in the state.
“We want to focus on the defensive end, and the defensive game planning for each team,” Ron Knepp said. “We talk about imposing our will on the other team, and being the most aggressive team on the court. We also talk about on the offensive end, valuing the basketball and cutting our turnovers down. We feel like if we can do those things, we can be in basketball games at the end, and from our experience in the past has taught us in January and February, if you’re in the game anything can happen.”
That message has come to fruition already once this year when North Daviess won a two-point thriller at the Cougar Den against Shoals when Meghan Knepp hit a game-winning three-pointer as time expired.
The Cougars are getting it done on their own path paved by defensive intensity. It may not be pretty, but that’s perfectly fine with them.