Clarkson/Leigh Girls Basketball 2018-19: Patriots return experienced group

November 29, 2018

An experienced group with high hopes will have the opportunity to prove itself right away when Clarkson/Leigh girls basketball hosts Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family on Friday night.

The Bulldogs were a Class D-1 state tournament team a year ago in a 21-5 season that ended with a state quarterfinal loss to North Central.

The Patriots bring back every member of last year’s group that lost the 2017-18 opener to the same opponent 40-28 and went 14-10 through the schedule.

“We’re excited. We’ve had a very good first eight practices. We’re excited for it to be basketball season,” coach Matt Murren said after practice last week. “Experience is one of our positives. We’re looking forward to the season getting here.”

Ashlynn Novotny, Keagan Held, Halee Steffensmeier, Beth Wiese, Kim Stodola, Paige Moore and Cassidy Hoffman return as starters or primary players from a 2017-18 group that scored 40 points per game.

Clarkson/Leigh bounced back from the opening loss with three wins in a row and ran off another streak of four straight victories later in the season. The Patriots only lost back-to-back games once all season, and that was in a three-game skid later in the schedule.

Though scoring was often an issue, with an average right around 40 points, Clarkson/Leigh also held opponents below 40 points 15 times. Thus, it would seem an equally as effective defense coupled with an improved offense would be a recipe for success.

Bringing the whole gang back should make that recipe one the Patriots are familiar with.

“We’ve even got back one girl who went down with an ACL injury last season and add in eight freshmen. We’ve got 26 kids out this year,” Murren said. “Everybody’s goal is to make the state tournament, but we’re going to focus on the small things, embracing the process and enjoying the small successes. The big picture is great, but we’ve also got to enjoy the little things that it takes to get there.”

The program has not qualified for state since the two schools combined sports programs. Clarkson has just one state tournament in its history back in 1990. Leigh has made 10 trips to Lincoln, the most recent in 2005, and won a D-1 state title in 1996.

“We are an effort team. The kids play extremely, extremely hard. Defensively we fly around, we don’t give up offensive rebounds and we fight for 50/50 balls,” Murren said. “We’re going to look to go out in transition, and score the ball in transition, but our identity is on defense.”

Clarkson/Leigh swiped away nearly 10 steals per game last season led by Novotny with an average of just over three. She also led the team in rebounding and assists with almost four per contest.

Held was the offensive weapon with 11.3 points per game and a 3-point mark of 31 percent. Steffensmeier scored 6.6 per game, Wiese managed 2.8, Stodola scored 4.5, Moore added 3.1 and Hoffman 2.5.

Each played more than 12 minutes per game with Novotny, Wiese, Held and Steffensmeier averaging more than 20.

The Patriots shot just 33 percent from the field and 26 percent from long range but also averaged nearly 12 offensive rebounds.

“We’re going to have a lot of girls back that are in the rotation. We’ve got five seniors, two or three juniors that will be playing and we’ve got three or four sophomores that could be in the rotation,” Murren said. “As a collective whole, we’ve got quite a few kids who can step up and do the job.”

Nate Tenopir is the sports editor for The Schuyler Sun. Reach him via email at SCHsports@lee.net

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