What’s been the difference this year for Beecher's girls basketball team?
The Ladycats would say defense and a growing sense of confidence. They went from posting a 12-15 record a year ago to forging a 17-5 record heading into Wednesday’s showdown with possible regional opponent Watseka.
Beecher is the No. 2 seed, while Watseka is the No. 1 seed at next week’s Paxton-Buckley-Loda Regional.
“We’ve been very aggressive as far as defense goes,” coach Adam Keen said. “We’re using more man-to-man.”
Keen added the squad has gotten used to his system in his second year as coach, and they feel more comfortable on the floor.
Sophomore Sam Pilbeam has 66 steals this season, while junior Emily Landis collected 65. The two are able to jump into the passing lanes to grab steals or deflect the ball to force the turnover.
“I have a couple girls who do a good job of that,” Keen said. “All you have to do is get a hand on the ball.”
That’s part of the reason why the Ladycats are holding teams to 35 points per game. The other is their rebounding prowess.
Three players average at least 5 rebounds a game led by Taylor Johnson’s 5.6 rpg. Eve Stolzenbach grabs 5.2 rpg and freshman Kate Ranger is at a 5.0 clip. Landis pulls down 4.0 rpg.
“We’re not a very big team,” Keen said. “We don’t have anyone taller than (5-foot-7). We make up for it by working on boxing out. I don’t have one girl who dominates. They all do a good job of attacking the ball.”
Beecher, which won the River Valley Conference title, has found its offensive rhythm. Junior Danielle Snuckel leads the way with a 13.8 points-per-game, while freshman Johnson adds 11.2.
“We’re very athletic and very fast,” said Snuckel, a three-year varsity player. “We have great ability this year. We’re extremely young, but we’re doing extremely well.”
Beecher is young with Alysha Basel the only senior on the roster. The freshman Ranger, who splits time between the junior varsity and varsity, adds depth.
Snuckel said she wasn’t sure how good the team would be this season, not knowing how much the younger players would contribute. Pilbeam and Stolzenbach are sophomores, while the other starters with Snuckel, Johnson and Landis, are juniors.
“I’m really impressed with their growth,” Keen said. “I hadn’t thought we would grow as much as we have.”
The Ladycats also have good chemistry.
“Definitely,” Snuckel said. “We have a lot of girls who can step up. If someone is having a bad game, we’re all ready to step up and we all can contribute.”
Keen wasn’t surprised by the big turnaround this year.
“Some of the girls will stay after practice and work on their game,” he said. “I’m amazed at how dedicated the girls have been at improving themselves.”
Their development has allowed Keen to go eight or nine players deep with his rotation.
“They do a fantastic job,” he said. “They do whatever they can to help the team and give 100 percent all the time. ... I get a lot of praise from other coaches about how hard my team works, and that’s true. They do work hard all the time.”
Now the Ladycats are approaching the school record of 21 wins.
“Our goals are to win the conference and get into the regional championship,” said Keen, who said earning the wins record is secondary. They want to win the regional.
“We sure do,” Snuckel said. “If we believe we can do it and keep playing hard, we’ll definitely get there. If we can get there it would be a lot of fun and good competition.”