The 2019-2020 season was the year of the youth movement for the Nokomis girls basketball team as nine of the 13 players on this year’s roster were freshmen.
While there were some growing pains for the Lady Redskins, as you’ll have when two-thirds of your team still can’t legally drive a car, there were also plenty of high points for Nokomis as well.
The team won five more games than they did the year before, going 12-20 on the season. Of their 20 losses, 14 came against teams in Class 2A. Five losses also came by single digits, including a four-point defeat at the hands of a solid Hardin Calhoun squad in the regional semifinal.
While the Redskins had just one senior, Macee Eisenbarth, it would be hard to find a better representative of Nokomis basketball.
Eisenbarth was undeniably the leader of the team, taking a leadership role on a squad loaded with underclassmen. Despite missing seven games due to illness, the Nokomis senior finished her career with 109 games played, tied for the most of any player since the graduating class of 2014.
Despite being undersized for her position in the post, Eisenbarth made the most of her athleticism and grit, improving in most categories in each of her four years. After averaging 7.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last year, she upped her points average to 9.6, while holding steady with 7.1 boards per contest.
The slight dip had more to do with having some help on the boards from teammates than any fault of Eisenbarth, who finished with 592 rebounds in her career, the most since Ashley Schneider’s 762 between 2011 and 2015. Her numbers were solid, but her leadership on the court and off will be what is toughest to replace for Coach Brandon Engelman.
Three juniors, Mia Fesser, Jayme Johnson and Kristen Stauder, joined Eisenbarth as elder statesmen for the Redskins, although Stauder was relegated to a motivational role for all but the first two games due to injury.
Fesser, who played in 51 games over her first two years, led the team in assists (46) and steals (67), while also increasing her points per game from 4.5 to 5.0. She also led the team in three-pointers made with 25, while contributing 62 rebounds as well.
Johnson was a key reserve for the Lady Redskins, playing in 30 games. After scoring just three points in her sophomore season, Johnson averaged 1.4 points and 1.7 rebounds per contest as a junior.
Everyone else on the roster was a varsity newbie, but all nine would come away from this season with at least one varsity point on their resume.
Some would have many more than that, including Audrey Sabol, who was second in points per game, with 8.9 per contest, and first in rebounds with 215 in her 30 games. Sabol, the younger sister of Brayden and Carter Sabol of Nokomis boys basketball fame, also led the team in two-point field goal percentage (48.8 percent) and blocks (34).
Five other freshmen also played in 30 or more games for the Lady Redskins. Addison Dangbar led the team in three-point percentage at 27.5 percent and was second in threes made with 22. She averaged 3.4 points per game and joined Sabol and Eisenbarth in grabbing over 100 rebounds, finishing the season with 102.
Hailey Engelman also averaged 3.4 points per game, with 25 assists and 31 steals, while cousin Natalie Engelman scored 1.9 per contest and showed that she can hit the three in pressure situations, finishing fourth at state in the Country Financial Three-Point Showdown.
Emma Sneddon would score 48 points in 30 games, with 33 steals and 37 rebounds, while Emily Cress had 16 points and 62 rebounds in her 31 appearances. Fellow freshmen Emma Keller, Carly King and Kalyn Davis would also see time on the floor for Coach Engelman, combining for five points and 11 rebounds while gaining some valuable experience.
This year’s freshmen know how to win, having finished fourth at the IESA State Tournament as eighth graders, but success in junior high doesn’t always translate to success in high school. The same goes for experience. If a player sees playing time as an underclassman, but doesn’t continue to improve, then the experience factor isn’t worth a whole lot.
That doesn’t seem to be the case for Nokomis as the team made strides throughout the season. Can they go even further next year? Only time will tell.