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home : sports : sports Sunday, October 4, 2015

3/5/2014 Email this articlePrint this article 
Four Sabers honored with All-WaMaC recognition

By Ross Eberhart
Sports editor

With the conference using a new look this winter, it seemed only fitting that the 2013-14 WaMaC girls basketball season would be dominated by fresh faces.

Facing an odd number of teams this school year with the departure of Waterloo Columbus, the conference decided to use a pod system with three separate five-team divisions.

The all-conference teams are similarly divided with three separate squads for each of the pods. One thing, though, is apparent across the board - the conference has plenty of young talent.

Of the 60 athletes honored for their play this winter, less than half of them (27) were seniors. In addition, 10 of the 15 first-team selections will be back next year, making for an intriguing 2014-15 as the WaMaC returns to East and West divisions next year.

The Central girls basketball team certainly played a role in the conference's youth movement as a pair of Sabers - sophomore Amanda Brainerd and junior Miranda Meland - were selected to the first team of their pod.

Central, though, also had two senior honorees in Abby Willis and Gretchen Henningsen, who were both honorable mention picks (all four players were honored last year as well).

The final Saber honoree was head coach Mark Kurtz, who was selected as Coach of the Year for the unofficially named 'Southeast Pod' after leading Central to the top of the division.

Brainerd was one of just two unanimous selections to the first team (Marion junior Michalyn Mohr was the other) as the sophomore put together a fantastic sophomore season.

The forward led the Southeast Pod in scoring with 371 points (a total that was good for third in the entire conference) and averaged 16.1 points per game.

In addition, Brainerd led the pod with 140 field goals (more than 30 better than the next-highest total) and converted over 50 percent of her shot attempts.

"Amanda had a great year," Kurtz said. "She statistically upped her numbers across the board and was as prolific a scorer as the program has had.

"She is a tough player to cover. Amanda has the height to get good looks in the post and she can also step away and hit some shots from the perimeter."

Brainerd was also a weapon at the free throw line. The sophomore attempted 121 foul shots during the year and made 91 of them (both numbers were tops in the pod), good for a 75.2 success rate.

"Amanda's a great free throw shooter and that is just the icing on the cake," Kurtz said. "She is hard to guard and then if you foul her, she'll make you pay."

Brainerd led the Sabers in rebounding as well - her total of 149 was second among players in the pod - and blocked 23 shots, while coming up with 15 steals and dishing out 26 assists.

Providing a nice complement to Brainerd's interior attack was Meland, who ranked among the state's best three-point shooters.

The junior led the entire conference in threes made with 53 - a number that also ranked fourth in all of class 4A - to finish fifth overall among Southeast Pod players with a 10.5 scoring average (242 points total).

"Miranda had a nice year shooting the ball and I think she showed some growth late in the year," Kurtz said. "It doesn't take long for the league to learn that you're a talented shooter and start concentrating on you. Miranda did a good job late of taking what the defense gave her and putting the ball on the floor."

Meland had a strong year on the defensive end as well. The junior led the entire squad with 29 steals and finished third on the team with 83 rebounds.

"Miranda just has a knack for finding the passing lanes and she creates some havoc on defense that way," Kurtz said of Meland, who also dished out 43 assists. "She also did a nice job rebounding the ball this year."

Coming up with rebounds was the name of the game for Willis, who finished second for the Sabers with 137 boards, including 38 on the offensive side.

"Abby is just so solid on the defensive end," Kurtz said. "She was able to match up with bigger girls in the post, while also showing the ability to guard a smaller player."

Willis chipped in 78 points on the offensive end - good for fourth on the team - and dished out 17 assists, while also coming up with 13 steals. The senior's impact, though, was felt in more places than the stat sheet.

"She's a great leader and it's her leadership that we are going to miss next season," Kurtz said of Willis. "She is one of those glue-type kids that a team really needs. She was always ready for practices and games and she was a vocal leader, especially on the defensive side."

Defenses had their hands full with Henningsen, who had a nose for the rim and - subsequently - the foul line.

The senior scored 50 points for the Sabers this season and nearly half of them (20 in all) came on free throws as Henningsen went 20-of-30 from the line (67 percent).

"Gretchen had a nice year," Kurtz said. "She really has the ability to drive the ball, especially along the baseline, and she is a very good free throw shooter, so we worked to get her in position to get to the hoop."

Even with her aggressiveness on the offensive end, Henningsen (who dished out 15 assists and had 50 rebounds) still did a good job of protecting the ball, cutting down her turnovers drastically from the year before.

"We kind of changed her role and put more emphasis on taking care of the ball and Gretchen responded," Kurtz said of Henningsen, who finished the year with six steals. "She gave us a nice lift."

The Coach of the Year honor was the third in six years for Kurtz, but the longtime Central head coach knows that it is truly a team award.

"It is always their award, I don't win it without them," Kurtz said of his squad, which went 6-2 in pod play. "It always helps to have a group that puts the time in and puts the effort in, and this team had no problems doing that this year."

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