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Apaches using summer to fill holes

POST: Wabash’s Mariah Wyatt puts up a shot in the post during a game at the Peru Summer League last week.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

On paper, the Wabash girls’ basketball team lost minimal from last season’s team. Of the eight players who featured in at least 18 games, seven will return for the 2018-19 season.

The one who won’t, though, leaves Wabash in unfamiliar waters.

Point guard and three-year starter Bailey Yoakum is that one non-returnee having graduated this spring. And, for the first time in three years, the Apaches are searching for a lead ball-handler.

“It’s the whole focus of the summer,” head coach Matt Stone said of finding a new point guard. “Carmen (Higdon) is not really a true point guard but that’s where we put her. But we’re going to run an offense different than what we’ve run in the past. I mean, it’s going to have to be everybody.

“We really have a team with eight people that can handle the ball. Now none of them are point guard material but they can all handle the ball a little. It is going to be a lot different than Jaycee (Parrett) or Bailey (Yoakum) dominating the ball. It’s been years since we’ve had to worry about it. But I think we’ve done a good job adjusting so far.”

The Apaches had plenty of opportunities to iron out the ball-handling responsibilities this summer, taking part in a handful of shootouts as well as the Peru Summer League.

“We went to Lafayette for a shootout and we’ve been in (the Peru Summer League),” Stone said. “Then we went to East Central for a two-day shootout and this coming Friday we’re going to Taylor University. So we will end up playing 20 games which is plenty.”

Amongst the returners is Carmen Higdon, whom Stone has given the ballhandling duties to so far this summer. Higdon led the team in scoring last season at 13.4 points while chipping in 4.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 3.0 steals per contest.

Tabatha Wagner led the team in rebounding and blocks last season while Abby Vinopal was second in assists. Alivia Short and Hope Unger round out the starting lineup Stone has used much of this summer. Short, a sophomore, impressed in 22 games last season as a freshman with 4.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

Unger, meanwhile, finished third on the team in scoring at 5.1 points per contest and connected on a team-best 24 three-pointers last year.

Off the bench, both Kiley Stone and Mariah Wyatt are expected to play big roles with the Apaches in the upcoming season.

Despite having a large chunk of last season’s team returning, Wabash will implement a drastically different offense this season. With a wealth of post players in Short, Wagner, Wyatt and Stone, Wabash will take advantage of an unlikely strength.

“We’ve run a lot of stuff the past five years of five-out or four-out-one-in,” Stone said. “Well, now we’re definitely a two-post offense, maybe three. We have to do a lot of high-low stuff and we’ve got to do a lot of stuff with them sharing. But we have a couple post players who really want to be inside and they really want the ball and we have some good facilitators out of our bigs.

“It should be good for us and it’s certainly a change. We haven’t had multiple bigs since I’ve been here and I’ve been here 17 years. This is certainly the biggest team we’ve had.”

With the offense changing, the summer has helped the Apaches learn just how valuable Yoakum was and the areas needed to build upon heading into next season despite having a strong core returning.

“It’s been extremely helpful except for that one was our point guard,” Stone said of having the core of his team returning. “And you realize quickly how much she dominated the ball and how much she broke presses by herself. Now, all of the sudden, people need to help. That’s one of the reasons summer is a good thing because now we’ve had to play through that and see that and when we get to October, we know what we have to do. We certainly have a lot still to work on but it’s been a good summer by that aspect.”