Demons ready to repeat as conference champs
After spending the entire volleyball season on the sidelines in street clothes, Washington senior Johannah Vittetoe was excited to be wearing a practice jersey and participating in non-contact drills during the girls’ basketball team’s first practice on Monday evening.
“After sitting out of volleyball, I’m ready to be doing something and ready to be contributing to my team,” said Vittetoe, who tore a ligament in her elbow after she was fouled and landed awkwardly in an AAU basketball game this summer.
That injury, which kept Vittetoe from playing even a single set of volleyball this fall, will also keep her out for possibly the first month of the basketball season. That’s a huge blow for the Demons, who even with the 5-foot-9 Vittetoe on the floor, are the smallest team that Washington head coach Phil Long says he’s ever coached.
“I have to mentally treat it as if she graduated,” Long said. “I have to plan accordingly and work around it and hope that she’s able to go by the middle of December. But as a staff, we have to treat it as if she’s a graduated senior and plan around it. Then hopefully we can add a piece to the puzzle in mid-December, because she’s one of the best post defenders I’ve ever had.”
The temporary loss of Vittetoe, Washington’s leading rebounder last season, comes on top of the loss of the team’s top three scorers from last year’s team that finished 18-5 and won the Southeast Conference with a perfect 8-0 record. Sydney Greiner, Lauren Vittetoe and Regan Enfield, who all graduated last spring, combined to account for nearly 60 percent of Washington’s scoring last season.
But Long has had to replace several of his top scorers before. In 2010, Long graduated seven seniors who accounted for 78 percent of the team’s scoring, and the Demons finished 18-6 and reached their third-straight regional final that season.
“If I remember right, I had to do that when Lucy Libe’s and Greta Smeins’ class graduated and seven seniors went out the door,” Long said. “But the next year kids stepped up and we went 18-6.”
But Long is looking for players to step up. Senior Lauren Kimball, who started at point guard last season and averaged 5.4 points per game, is the team’s returning scorer. And Vittetoe averaged 4.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. But no returning player is a proven scorer.
“For the first year I’m not sure who our go-to kid is,” Long said. “In the past, we’ve had a Cassey Sobaski or a Sydney Greiner who would step up and take a game over. I’m missing that gym rat kid who everybody knows put the time in and can make a tough shot when the game’s on the line. So we’re going to have to find that person or group of kids pretty quick.”
The Demons also lack size this season. Vittetoe and fellow senior Beth Dillon are Washington’s tallest players, but they aren’t about to intimidate anyone. So the Demons are going to have to win games with their speed.
“I mean, we may not have as big of girls or we may not have Sydney Greiner or Lauren Vittetoe shooting for 16 to 20 points a game, but we do have quick girls who can get those points and get 16 to 20 points in layups,” Vittetoe said. “Beating people up the court will be our strength.”
It will have to be, Long said.
“It’s going to have to be an uptempo game for us to survive,” he said. “It’s the smallest, but probably the fastest team I’ve ever coached. So thank goodness we’re not short and slow.”
Even with the loss of three key seniors from last year and Vittetoe, the Demons hope to repeat as conference champions this winter.
“We had a huge loss with Sydney, Regan, Lauren and all of them, but I think we will have enough sophomores upcoming and enough girls willing to try and willing to put in the effort to be conference champs again.”
The Demons will open the season on Nov. 19 with a non-conference game at Eddyville-Blakesburg.