No depth. No size and no seniors and yet no losses in the Northwest Conference.
The Bluffton High School girls basketball team has overcome all these shortcomings to post a 10-3 overall record and a 4-0 conference mark to open the season, and the Pirates look to continue that success down the season’s home stretch in hopes of capturing their first NWC title since 2005.
A quartet of talented juniors, with unselfish play and an infusion of some young talent, have all contributed to the the Pirates’ winning ways. The junior foursome of Alivia Koenig, Averey Rumer, Katie Prater and Ashley Eachus have been together since the fourth grade and have developed a strong bond on and off the court.
Koenig, a two-time first team All-NWC selection, spearheads the attack but at any time the other three can step up.
“We are young and have no seniors but they have played together for a while now,” Garmatter said. “They are starting gel and starting to come together.”
Not many are surprised how good Bluffton is. Last season, the Pirates finished second in the NWC with a 7-1 record and an overall mark of 17-7 with pretty much the same squad.
“We have some quickness and we are a heady bunch. We are pretty smart. We can shoot pretty well,” Garmatter said. “We can get after it defensively if we want to but it is just getting them to do it on every possession.”
While the quickness, precision perimeter shooting and defense make up for the lack of height, Garmatter can do little about the depth but to hope some of the younger players step up when called upon. The Pirates, with only 10 total players, do not field a junior varsity team.
Sophomores Libby Schaadt, who is averaging 10 points this year, has filled the partial void left by Abbie Parkins, who graduated, and sophomore Brinkley Garmatter and freshman Laykin Garmatter have provided valuable minutes coming off the bench.
Leadership from the juniors comes into play when it comes to assisting the underclassmen and Garmatter said the four juniors have provided great direction.
“We need the younger players and they are going to make mistakes but as long as they make mistakes and they have a junior that comes up to them and tell them to forget about it and move on to the next play,” Garmatter said. “Where in the past it would not be such a gentle thing and the girls would be afraid to make that next mistake.”
Garmatter said coming into the season he expected to be competitive.
“Am I surprised, no, but the second half of the season is going to be a little bit stronger than the first half,” Garmatter said. “We will take it one game at a time.”
Bluffton’s three losses came to Ottoville (14-0), Arlington (8-4) and Arcadia (8-2) however the Pirates picked up big wins against Kenton (9-3) and Crestview (6-6).
The Pirates jump right into the tough part of their schedule when they face Spencerville (6-5, 2-1 NWC) tonight. It is followed by a trip to Columbus Grove on Jan. 25 and Delphos Jefferson on Feb. 15. Delphos is the only other unbeaten team in the NWC.
Even though Bluffton is unbeaten in the NWC, Garmatter does not feel like his team is the hunted.
“Until Grove is completely knocked out of it, Grove is the hunted team,” Garmatter said. “We had a nice win against Crestview, but we still have Spencerville. We still have Grove, Jefferson and Allen East. We are there and in position to challenge for it but until someone knocks off Grove – and I know their record is not what they want it to be — but in our league they only have the one loss.”
That is not to say that teams will not be gunning for Bluffton and Garmatter understands that opponents will bring their A game to try and sink the Pirates’ dreams of a conference title.
Garmatter said the team makes goals each year and they are to win the conference and get to the districts and these two are great motivators for the Pirates if they lose focus.
“If they start lagging a little bit in practice we will bring up it up and say ‘hey, you are never going to reach your goals if we don’t get better,’” Garmatter said. “We strive to get a little better everyday in practice. It doesn’t always happen but that is what we strive for.”
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468 or on twitter at @JoseNogueras1