A matchup between two of the best girls programs in the metro-east will tip off the 27th annual Highland Optimist Club Shootout on Saturday.
Lebanon (17-0) will face Highland (11-5) at 10 a.m. Last year, the host Bulldogs knocked off previously undefeated Civic Memorial 51-48 in the first game of the extravaganza.
“They’re a strong ballclub,” Highland coach Mike Arbuthnot said of the Greyhounds. “I’ve watched them a couple of times, and I’ve got them on film. They’re very athletic. Their guard play is strong, and they’ve got the nice girl inside (Madison Schoenfeld) who can score a little bit. They’ve won a lot of games the last couple of years.”
Senior guard Kendra Bass, who has been battling a concussion, leads Lebanon in scoring at 16.5 points per game. Junior guard Emily Reinneck averages 13.4 points and leads the Greyhounds with 33 3-pointers. The 6-foot-1 Schoenfeld, a senior center, averages 10.4 points and 7.6 rebounds.
Lebanon coach Chad Cruthis, however, said the playing status of Bass (concussion) and Schoenfeld (knee) won’t be determined until Saturday. Both played Thursday in the Greyhounds’ 38-31 victory at Okawville.
“If we were 100 percent healthy, I would like it a lot more,” Cruthis said. “It’s a big game for our program, and it was nice of them to invite us and give our girls a chance to get there and play a team that, population-wise, is much bigger than us. They’re a quality program.
“We’ll put our uniforms on and give them as good a shot as we can. ... If we don’t have Madison or Kendra, it’s going to be a long, uphill battle. If we don’t have one of them, it’s going to be a long, uphill battle just because it completely changes how we play. We don’t have very much depth. We play pretty well five people and a sixth or a seventh here or there.”
Arbuthnot called the shootout “a huge event.” Last year, the Bulldogs made a statement on their home floor with their three-point victory over Civic Memorial in the shootout. It extended their winning streak that eventually reached 21 games before a 61-52 loss to Civic Memorial in the championship game of the Class 3A Waterloo Sectional.00
“We’re in the same situation we were in last year,” Arbuthnot said. “Obviously, that was a sectional of game, a (Mississippi Valley) conference win that we had to have to be able to win the conference. Yeah, we love the hype, we love the environment. But as your season gets going, you just look at your next game and try to take it one step at a time. I know how good Lebanon is, but we’ve played some good teams.”
Sophomore guard Ellie Brown (14.6 points), senior guard Reece Portell (11.1 points) and junior guard Emily Nyquist (9.3 points, 3.5 assists, 29 3-pointers) are Highland’s top players. The Bulldogs’ four losses are against Teutopolis, Mater Dei, Civic Memorial and Belleville East.
Lebanon, which was ranked third in the first Class 1A poll, will have a target on its back for the remainder of the season, even it does absorb an occasional loss.
“You shouldn’t be favored against a school their size that has the guards (Arbuthnot) has,” Cruthis said. “I think we’re the underdog, and I’ve let the girls know I consider it a free shot. If we win, that’s a great feather in the cap, a great accomplishment for the girls. If we lose, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not the regional or the sectional or anything along those lines.”