Ephrata looks to again join Lebanon in two-horse race

By on December 9, 2015

 

Ephrata’s Caroline Stauffer is the top returning scorer for the Lady Mounts.

Ephrata’s Caroline Stauffer is the top returning scorer for the Lady Mounts.

Ephrata heads into the 2015-16 girls high school basketball season with a bit of uncertainty.

Sure, the individual talent is there with junior guard Caroline Stauffer and senior post player Kenzie Horst both returning for their third seasons as starters. Stauffer averaged 12.2 points per game a year ago and hit a team-high 42 three-pointers while Horst scored almost eight points per game and gave Ephrata a presence on the inside.

And, there is some quality depth to fill around those two, led by senior guard Kay Liebl, also a returning starter. Several newcomers also will look to contribute as head coach Mike Garman believes he can rotate up to 10 players this year.

However, the one question that still remains, at least in the early part of the season, is how the Lady Mounts and Garman plan to replace Kelly Liebl, who re-wrote just about every record in school history.

A year ago, Liebl, Ephrata’s point guard, closed out her outstanding career by becoming a 1,000-point scorer (1,065 to be exact). The Lady Mounts must find a way to make up for not only her scoring and defense, but most importantly, her leadership on the court.

If the Lady Mounts can pick up some of that slack, and Garman believes they can, Ephrata may just have enough punch to overtake Lebanon as champions in Section Two.

A year ago in a winner-take-all game in Ephrata, the Cedars got a big performance in the fourth quarter from then-freshman Alexis Hill to snatch the section title from the Lady Mounts.

And while Ephrata recovered nicely to post a 17-8 overall record and a trip to both the L-L and District Three playoffs, that loss still stings.

If things do come together, look for those two teams to battle it out again this season.

Recently, Ephrata Review Sports Editor Todd Ruth caught up with Garman, who is entering his 15th season, to discuss the season.

The following is a transcript of that conversation:

Todd Ruth: Last year, you guys turned in a pretty nice season finishing 17-8, making the playoffs and playing Donegal tough in the league playoffs. What were your impressions of that year as a whole.

Mike Garman: I thought last year was a good year. Any time you can go out and win 17 games and put yourself in a position to compete in the league playoffs and then certainly in Districts is always a good thing. We won some good games last year.

Winning the Fleetwood Tournament was a good win for us. It was a game where we had some people in foul trouble, some injuries, and we found a way so that was real encouraging. We had a bad game with Cocalico. That was very disappointing but I think they learned from that. We beat Township, which was a good win. We hadn’t done that in a long time.

And we played Hempfield tough. We missed some key lay-ups and we really should have beat them. Then we played Donegal in the league playoffs. We were down 7-0 and from that point on it was pretty much even. We just couldn’t quite get over the hump, but they had a very nice team. And then our section. we put ourselves in a position to win a section championship. We had to beat Lebanon on our home floor, and unfortunately, that game is one that will be etched in my brain forever.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that game. That stung because we played so well for three quarters. We were up nine at half-time and playing well. We were up six going into the fourth quarter and for whatever reason in the fourth quarter we just struggled. And to her credit, (Alexis) Hill from Lebanon really stepped up and really tried to take over that game which she did. That was very disappointing but you know, we put ourselves in a position to be in that situation and you can’t ask for much more than that.

Every year my goal is to win a section championship. That’s what we try and do. And we were in position and were knocking on the door but just came up a little short.

TR: You come into this year having graduated one of your best players in the history of the program in Kelly Liebl. She pretty much did it all. How do you go about replacing her?

MG: Well, Kelly, like you just said, was one of the best players I’ve ever coached. If you go back and look at her statistics, she scored 1,065 points for her career, and if you look at the number of free throws she attempted and I think she’s the all-time leader. And I think she has the most free throws ever made in school history. You are talking about a kid that is 5-2…she just did so many things. She led our team in assists, steals, was second in rebounding and first in scoring. How do you replace someone like that? Well, you really can’t. You just have to hope that everyone can figure out a way to try and pick up some of that slack, and it can’t be just one person. There is no way, so you hope that Caroline, Kenzie, Kay and whomever else can somehow find a way to maybe add an assist here, a rebound or a steal and score maybe a couple more points than the previous year. If you can do that, then you can offset it. But with her leadership and everything she brought, certainly you can’t replace her.

TR: After two weeks of practice, what are your early impressions of this year’s team?

MG: It’s been a good two weeks, it hasn’t been a great two weeks. I think the thing is they are trying to figure out how they are going to compete, and to try to replace someone of Kelly’s caliber. I’ve got some more depth this year, and that’s a good thing. But we are trying to figure out who is going to be able to step in and do the job that we are looking for. It might just be by trial and error.

You look at Kenzie, I think she’s going to be a real good player this year and is going to have a real good season. This will be her third year starting. She’s in great position to do great things. You look at Kay, she started last year and needs to build upon that. She needs to take what she did last year and improve upon that. You look at Caroline, she’s now coming into a season in which she’s been a two-year starter and has scored almost 600 points, which is pretty amazing. She also needs to look at what she needs to do because last year, I think Kelly deflected a lot of that. Now, that’s going to be a little bit different. She’s got to look to step up her game. And Brittany Ritter will certainly be more of a factor for us this year. She shoots the ball well but she’s got to be able to defend and rebound and do the things that will allow us to compete. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle right now that we are still trying to figure out, to be very honest with you. I think it’s there. It’s just a matter of can we put it all together.

TR: What are some of the qualities you like in your team?

MG: I like their work-ethic. They really seem to like one another and seem to respect one another. They share the ball. Defensively, looking at how we play defense, we certainly will be mixing things up. I think we’ll certainly play man when we can and if we need to play some zone we’ll certainly do that as well. I’d like to try to spread the floor and we do have some quickness. If we can somehow try to use that to our advantage we are going to do that.

TR: You had mentioned that you have more depth this year. In addition to the ones we mentioned, who else is going to be in the mix?

MG: Well, you got (junior) Kasey Umana, who played a lot last year. She ended up starting toward the latter part of the year. She is certainly a person that we need to look at. We have two other seniors in Lauren Shuke and Lauren Moyer. They both played JV last year but now they are seniors and can they have the ability to step up and help out? That’s something we have to find out. Pam Sola is a junior now and can she go in and help out in terms of playing defense and try to score and create some good offense for us? Esh (Baykeda) is another player who might be able to help, and certainly you have to look at (sophomore) Kyla McKim. She’s 6-2, and is someone right now that isn’t anywhere near ready to play varsity basketball. But at 6-2, you can’t ignore that. And you look at (freshman) Kandice Liebl and she can flat out shoot. She can put the ball in the hole. There are a lot of people we have, but you just don’t know who will come forward for us.

TR: I would think teams will try to set out to take away Caroline offensively, right?

MG: You always look to stop the best offensive player. You try to minimize their ability to hurt you. That’s what teams will do, and that’s where others will have to find a way to score. I think we do have some other kids. Kenzie is certainly another option. Brittany Ritter and then some unknowns who could step up. But there could be nights when we have trouble scoring points. You have to try to rely on your defense to try and create some turnovers and fastbreak opportunities. If we can do that, that’s going to help us from an offensive standpoint.

TR: What would you consider your team’s greatest strengths to be right now?

MG: I think our quickness, we are fairly athletic, and our speed. That is something we can use to our advantage defensively to try to create some steals and get the ball down the floor quickly. If we can do that, it is going to help us a lot. We are not big or physical. We are not going to scare anybody. We are going to have to really scrap.

TR: What areas do you need to improve most?

MG: Well, we got to find a way to score and try to get better offensively.

TR: Is it a matter of kids being willing to step up and take that shot if it’s there?

MG: I think it’s just feeling comfortable with what’s being done on the floor, being able to make some shots. The thing that Kelly brought is she got to the foul line. Right now I see us more as a perimeter team. We are not going to the hole like we did last year. I put a different offense in and we’re going to try to create some opportunities to try and take the ball to the rim. But in order to do that you got to have some kids who can shoot threes. We have Caroline and Brittany who shoot threes fairly well, and you got Kandice, a freshman and Maddie Mendenhall, who is a sophomore. They can shoot threes, but they aren’t ready. I do think they will be at some point in time.

Listen, our kids will certainly play hard. They will scrap. I mean that’s just the way we always play. We are just going to go out every night and compete and do the best we can.

TR: Let’s look at Section Two. I would think if things do fall into place for you, you guys should be able to battle for a section crown. Do you agree?

MG: I think if we can stay healthy and put everything together and get to that point where we are playing eight, nine kids and everyone is contributing, there is no question that we could be there. I know we can be there, but we are not there yet.

TR: What other teams will challenge?

MG: (Alexis) Hill is without question the best player in Section Two, in my opinion. Prime example, last year in the game to win the section, she pretty much took over in the fourth quarter and they won. They won the section title. I would say Lebanon certainly with Hill is going to be there. CV returns pretty much everybody. They will be better, E-town has some kids who are very athletic and very aggressive. Solanco lost their two leading scorers. I’m not sure how they’ll be, but I think in our section there isn’t anybody who will be head and shoulders above us. Whoever plays well and does the little things and stays healthy, if you do those things you can certainly be there. I expect us to be there to be very honest with you. I’d be very disappointed if we’re not.

The girls last year lost that game to Lebanon. And they don’t outwardly say it but I think it is in the back of their mind. I think any time when you put yourself in that position where you are so close but you can’t quite get it done, I think that never really goes away. I think there is a little extra incentive there, and sometimes that can be a good thing. I’m certainly looking forward to us being real competitive and hopefully we’ll have a good season.

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