Althoff girls basketball coach Nick Knolhoff begins his second year on the job with his system in place, a pair of three-year varsity contributors returning for their senior seasons and a roster that might be the favorite to win the South Seven Conference title.
“We’re definitely more comfortable going into this season than we were last year,” Knolhoff said. “I love it more than anything. It’s definitely more rewarding being at the high school level than at the grade school level. Having your own varsity high school program, you couldn’t ask for much more.”
In the 2016-17 season, Knolhoff and the Crusaders should have more success as Althoff returns every player from last season’s 9-19 team, including senior captains Kyleigh Vaught and Maggie Reimer.
Althoff opens its season Friday at the Salem Thanksgiving Tournament, where it will take on Teutopolis at 6:30 p.m.
“We went through a learning curve last year. We had a lot of girls who hadn’t played a lot of varsity minutes last year. But that’s only going to help us this year because we have everybody back,” Knolhoff said. “We have high hopes in the (South Seven) conference this year. We were 4-6, but the teams who finished ahead of us lost a lot of players.
“We’re hoping that with the players we have back that this is our year to win the conference. We’re not holding back any expectations. That’s our goal.”
Vaught, a guard, returns for her fourth year after averaging 15 points and shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the 3-point line in her junior year. She will attend the University of Nebraska at Kearney next season.
Reimer, who averaged 12 points last season and is also one of the Crusaders top defenders and rebounders, is also looking for a big senior season.
“They are both our go-to players. Everything will go through both Kyleigh (Vaught) and Maggie (Reimer),” Knolhoff said. “ They both have their college signings out of the way, so they don’t have to worry about playing for anyone. They both have a lot of heart, and as a coach, I know they are going to give everything they have every second they are on the court. But that’s true for all of our girls.”
Playing opposite Vaught in the Crusaders backcourt will be senior point guard Amanda Kaltwasser. Bookend seniors Emily Myatt and Ellie Martz returned to basketball just this week after helping to lead the Crusaders volleyball team to a third-place finish at the Class 3A State Tournament on Saturday.
“We’re going to count on Amanda (Kaltwasser) to handle the basketball maybe 80 percent of the time to take some of the pressure off Kyleigh (Vaught),” Knolhoff said. “I told her and Emily (Myatt) that they are going to have to take some shots from the perimeter because teams are going to be sagging down on both Maggie (Reimer) and Kyleigh (Vaught). They are both good shooters.
“Ellie (Martz) and Emily (Myatt) are both great athletes. One of the things I like most about (Ellie) Martz is that she is so smart. She really knows how to use her body in the post area.”
Also returning are Andersyn Watts, Addie Burris and sisters Gabby and Tiffany Siekman. Freshman Corinna Gall will also see time in the varsity lineup.