VANDALIA — Inexperience and youth are not usually terms used when describing a basketball team that returns three of its top scorers from a year ago, but for the 2017-18 version of Butler girls basketball, those seemingly contradictory descriptions are accurate.
Senior Willow Knight, who averaged 13 points, junior Tyree Fletcher (10.2 ppg, 6.6 rebounds per game), and junior Abbie Schoenherr (5.5 ppg) return from a team that went 16-7 overall and finished third an the GWOC American North with a 10-5 record.
“Willow will be our go-to and likely lead us in scoring,” said Butler head coach Molly Bardonaro. “Tyree will be right there – she can get to the basket, get put-backs. She’s in the right spot at the right time and is quick off the floor. She knows how to get in grab a rebound, get the right pass made, and if she trusts her outside shot she can hit that too.
Beyond that, however, the roster is loaded with players with little or no experience.
Senior Natalie Maurer played in 17 games and junior Maddie Mitchell saw action in 11, but beyond that the team returns players with no varsity experience.
“The good news is that every practice, every day we get better,” said Bardonaro. “We are very young, not necessarily young but inexperienced, so we’ve had to use every minute of every practice to our advantage and get as much in as we can.
“I can’t be discouraged by what I’m seeing. They get out there and fight no matter who they are playing. They work hard. We have a lot of the little things to fix but those things will come. The love for the game, the hard work, the tenacity – that’s already there.”
Bardonaro said that Mitchell has made huge strides in the off-season.
“Maddie is one who looks completely different from a year ago,” she said. “Soccer is her main sport but she has become a basketball player. She’s really turned it around in a year and I’m glad she came out. She’s going to big for us defensively.”
Outside of sophomore Megan Allen, who is five feet, 11 inches tall, the Aviators don’t have a lot of size. As such, Bardonaro said the team will often play small to take advantage of the team’s quickness and shooting. Butler’s offense will at times go without a post player and at other times just one inside player.
“We have a lot of quickness,” said Bardonaro. “Even Tyree and Maddie who will be playing the four and five spots are not true post players – they are quick forwards. Putting them outside the arc and letting them penetrate and do their thing is not going to be a bad thing.”
Guard play will be important, and Schoenherr proved a year ago she can run the offense. Bardonaro has several guards who will contribute.
“Abbie will be big for us as well,” said Bardonaro. “She’s grown a couple of inches which is nice. Her shot is looking good and she sees the floor well. She will be one of our better defenders. I’m thrilled with what I’ve seen from Jacie Dalton. She is one of our faster, quicker players, really gets after it, and doesn’t think about it. We have a lot of young guards like Ciatlin Plummer and Gracie Price who have nice shots. Roles will develop as the season goes forward.”
Bardonaro enters her fourth season leading the Aviators after posting a 44-25 record in her first three years. Her teams are known for being scrappy and playing hard, even when outmatched in talent – and the coach said that is intentional.
“Anyone can learn the X’s and O’s,” she said. We will run up against teams that have five really talented players out there, but you can’t deny hustle. Playing hard, diving on the floor, and doing the little things means you will win games you aren’t supposed to win against teams with better basketball players than we have. Effort and intensity make good things happen.”
Butler opens the season on Monday, Nov. 27 at Northmont. They then travel to Tecumseh on Wednesday, Nov. 29. Both games tip at 7:30 p.m.
The Aviators will open their home schedule on Saturday, Dec. 2 versus Arcanum at 1 p.m.
Reach Darrell Wacker at (937) 684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.