Shortened Roster Poses Challenge For Panthers

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In what is hoped to be a full schedule of girls basketball, Coach Rob Corso’s Litchfield Lady Panthers will open their season against Nokomis tomorrow Nov. 16, in Simmons Gymnasium. 

There will be no junior varsity contest and the starting time for the varsity game is 6 p.m. The Panthers will get a break on Wednesday before hitting the road to Brownstown on Thursday. 

Their annual Thanksgiving Tournament begins on Saturday, Nov. 20, and culminates the following Saturday. In addition to the Lady Panthers, this year’s five-team tourney includes Carlyle, Nokomis, Piasa Southwestern and Staunton, with the Lady Redskins and the Lady Bulldogs seeded as the top two contenders for the championship trophy. 

Due to COVID restrictions, there was no tournament play in Litchfield’s 2020 season, a season that was shortened to an 11-game schedule. The last tournament champion was the Piasa Birds, who defeated Litchfield in the 2019 title game.

New to the Litchfield schedule this year is the 16-team Riverton High School Holiday Tournament that runs from Dec. 27 through Dec. 30. The tournament will provide an opportunity for the Lady Panthers to compete against teams from the Sangamo, MSM, HOIC, Illini Prairie, Tomahawk and Central Illinois Conferences. 

“We added Riverton to our regular season schedule a couple of years ago and we decided to give their tournament a try,” Coach Corso said. 

Other than their four Thanksgiving tournament games and their season opener against Nokomis, the Lady Panthers will enjoy home court advantage against Springfield Lutheran, Greenville, Vandalia, Carlinville, Riverton, North Mac, Mt. Olive and Hillsboro. 

Excluding the Riverton Tournament games and the November game at Brownstown, their schedule includes road games against Williamsville, Southwestern, Hillsboro, Gillespie, South County, Lincolnwood, East Alton-Wood River, Pana, Calhoun and Staunton. Litchfield will play eight conference games and Coach Corso believes Pana, Hillsboro and Greenville will all be contenders for the South Central Conference title.

The Lady Panther lineup contains just 10 players, three of whom are returning varsity letter winners, seniors Lily Braasch, Carly Guinn and junior Laura Boston. Lost to graduation were senior starters Cara Pence and Becky Painter. Pence was the team’s Most Valuable Player and averaged a double/double in all 11 games (11 ppg, 12 rpg) while Painter led the team in three point shooting and averaged 4.4 ppg and 3.1 rpg.

Coach Corso had high praise for his two returning seniors. 

“Carly Guinn has really become a leader in the gym,” he said. “She takes initiative and has become kind of an extension of the coach. She is someone you can go to and she gets things done. Her teammates really respect her and it is really nice to have someone like that within the lineup.”

Guinn averaged 5.5 points per game in the spring season and shot 31 percent from floor and connected on five baskets from downtown. She averaged 2.2 rebounds per game and recorded 22 steals and 10 assists.

“Last year we only played a handful of games and toward the end of the season, Lily Braasch had a big game against Greenville that really boosted her confidence as a player,” Coach Corso said. “She worked hard this summer on her shot so she could become more of an offensive threat and I think that is really going to help us. Another thing that Lily did to help herself is she went out for track and it really made her more athletic.” 

During the spring season, Braasch averaged 1.5 points per game and connected on 32 percent of her shots from the floor. She averaged 4.5 rebounds per game and contributed nine assists and six steals.

With only 10 names on the Lady Panther roster, Coach Corso said they will probably be more of a half court oriented team. 

“Due to the numbers and lack of experience, we will keep it close to the vest, pretty conservative and pretty simple and that is going to help the young players because they are going to have to play and the less they have to think and just play basketball, the better situation they will be in,” he added. 

Defense is not lost in the conversation as Coach Corso knows the execution of the Lady Panther defense will be a contributor to their success.

In addition to the two seniors, Braasch and Guinn, the Lady Panther roster includes juniors Laura Boston, Hailey Rentz and Emma Walch. Boston appeared in all 11 games played during the shortened season and averaged 4.6 points per game. She canned 32 percent of her shots from floor and connected on 50 percent of her free throws. She was second behind Pence in rebounding and averaged 4.8 caroms per game. 

“Rentz and Walch are both going to have to step up, play ball and grow up fast, “ Coach Corso said. Rounding out the roster are sophomores Emma Diveley and Madisyn Bremerkamp and freshmen Daphney Hartel, Georgina Painter and Elise Walch. 

In closing remarks, Coach Corso said, “I am hoping for the best and trying to put people where they can succeed. We are just going to have to roll with it. As coaches, we must be positive, point out errors, tell them how they can be corrected and then move on.” Coach Corso is assisted by Michaela Bergschneider and Abby Frerichs.

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