Ottumwa High School girls basketball coach Joe VandenBerg doesn’t have that true basketball player on his roster — yet.
What the first-year coach has is plenty of experience and even more athleticism.
The Bulldogs, despite losing both post players to graduation, begin the season from a position of strength, especially in the backcourt. VandenBerg has several interchangeable players because of quickness, wingspan and just overall ability. And, it’s a senior-dominated group, especially among the starters.
“We have a good team that can shoot the 3-pointer pretty well, but we can also attack downhill and get the layin,” VandenBerg said. “We can still get those buckets inside.”
The Bulldogs, who were 14-6 a year ago, lost all-state post Lily Anderson and the physical Morgan Greiner, creating a big void in the paint. However, despite some returning size — namely senior twins Alli and Grace Bookin-Nosbisch — the Bulldogs will continue to evolve offensively. Grace Bookin-Nosbisch is the team’s top returning scorer, averaging 11 points per game last year.
“We’ve got some girls who really bought into our summer shooting program, but some girls have the mentality to attack,” VandenBerg said. “These girls have had success before and know what it looks like, so they’re just ready to play. There is a lot of leadership here, and that’s something that is both earned and has to be demonstrated.”
@OttumwaGBB coach Joe VandenBerg discusses how his 2019-20 team can cope after losing both posts (including an all-stater) to graduation. He had a lot to say about a lot of things, but this is a snippet. #iahsbkb pic.twitter.com/hhriduGCQZ— Chad Drury (@ChadDrury) November 21, 2019
The backcourt consists of veterans Kaylee Bix, Katie Nelson and Kacy Nickerson. The Bulldogs did lose leading 3-pointer shooter Helen Altfillisch, but Nickerson has been a solid shooter throughout her career, while Bix and Nelson can both shoot from the outside and attack the basket.
“Kacy battled injuries last year, but she’s super healthy now,” VandenBerg said. “Our entire starting five is ready to go, but they have that experience you can’t replace. They know what that grind and pressure of a long season is like. That confidence is a huge part of it.”
The Bookin-Nosbisch sisters are tough to defend and get around on the wings, and have been a matchup nightmare throughout their careers. Junior Anne Guest, who has taken her game to another level in the offseason, likely will be the main post player this season and brings solid scoring, rebounding and free-throw shooting skills to the team.
Other players could see significant minutes this year as well, including sophomore Addison Ransom and juniors Chloe Schneckloth and Josie Lemonds.
“Anne and Chloe have really risen up, and I think they can help fill that void,” VandenBerg said. “We’ve had to adjust how we rebound a little bit, but with Kacy back and the twins shooting the ball with more confidence, that can take some of the pressure off.”
The Bulldogs have been in Des Moines East’s shadow in the CIML Metro recently, but if there is a season to claim that throne, this may be it. East lost a dozen players and has a new coach, and other players in the league have transferred to different schools.
The league could look a little different this year.
“We’re taking the right steps (toward winning the Metro),” VandenBerg said. “We can’t take anyone lightly. North returns almost everyone and has a ton of athletes. Roosevelt is going to be a tough team.
“But when it comes down to it, we have to take care of every game, not just one.”
The Bulldogs added a trip to Burlington to their schedule in place of Keokuk, but all the other opponents remain the same. The schedule sets up well for a quick start like last season, but visits to Ames and Waukee will be challenging before Christmas.
“I think the first few games open up nicely because it’ll give us a chance to get out and run our style of play,” VandenBerg said. “We really don’t get into the conference season until after Christmas, and I think that’s a benefit because we can get our feet wet and get rid of some of those nerves.
“Then, we hit the ground running.”