Superb coaching, good team chemistry and health and near flawless postseason execution were just a few of the key elements which helped the Central Cougars finish off a storybook season a year ago with a second-place finish at the Class 2A Girls State Tournament.
The quest for another good season isn’t starting out nearly as well.
With senior all-state center Kendra Wilken at or near full strength after suffering an ankle injury during the volleyball season, coach Nathan Rueter’s squad will have to deal with another loss after senior guard Alicia Book suffered a broken left ankle during a recent Central practice and will be out until at least late January.
“It happened when we were doing a drill at practice. Alicia rolled her ankle. It was honestly pretty innocent. She usually rolls her ankle once a year and so when it happened we didn’t really think much of it. Then the news kept getting worse and worse,” Rueter said. “It’s a blow because she’s one of our best players. But as her coach, I really feel bad for her because she’s a senior and she’s got the ability to play college basketball.
“It’s just unfortunate for her that she’s not going to be able to showcase her talents for a while. We are hopeful that she can come back later in the season and help us in any kind role she can because obviously it would be a big boost for this basketball team.”
While the Cougars, who finished 31-4 a year ago, will miss the leadership and scoring of the 5-foot-7 Book (6.6 points per game), they will return four of their top players. Central, which opens its season against Chatham-Glenwood at the O’Fallon Tournament on Saturday, will be led by perhaps the premier Class 2A player in the state in 6-2 senior Kendra Wilken (19.9 points and 12 rebounds) along with 6-1 senior Kaylee Schrand, who averaged 6.9 points, sharpshooting senior guard Grace Yaunches. who scored 6.1 points a game, and sophomore guard Faye Meissner.
With Book sidelined and standout Sophie Rickhoff graduated, Meissner could be the frontrunner to run the Cougars offense from the point guard spot. Meissner (3.5) and senior Breanne Jansen (2.5) are also good perimeter shooters. Jansen also saw considerable playing time a year ago.
“We’ve always been a program with one designated point guard who did the majority of handling the basketball out front. That may not be the case this year. We may have one, two or three girls in that role for us,” Ruenter said. “There are also some things we can do with some of our big kids in gaining some mismatches out front. We some options. We’ll do whatever we need to do to be successful.”
By doing whatever it takes to be successful, the Cougars will look to Wilken on both ends of the court. A Saint Louis University basketball recruit will dominate in the low post nearly every night and has the ability to handle the basketball like a guard. Wilken has also developed a solid perimeter shooting touch which will no doubt benefit her at the college level next year and cause many sleepless nights for metro-east coaches high school coaches for at least four more months.
Wilken also seems to be fully recovered from her severe high ankle sprain in September.
“I think like anyone would be, Kendra was a little timid with at first. But she’s come along well with it and she’s ready to go,” Rueter said. “She’s realized that in order to be even a better play both this year and at the next level that she has to improve her ball-handling skills and her outside shooting. She’s done that.”
Schrand is also an offensive threat, is quick and can be a defensive stopper because of her long reach and ability to play physical basketball.
Seniors Carly Albers (5-10) and Breanna Beckmann (6-0) will also be counted on top help out in the post area.