JACKSON TWP. This season has been all about making the transition from district final hero to key player on a new-look team for Kerianne Diese.
The Jackson junior guard etched her name in the program’s lore with a game-winning 3-pointer in last season’s district final win over GlenOak, but the makeover the Polar Bears underwent in the offseason has written a new role for her this winter.
Gone is a large chunk of the team’s scoring and minutes from last year and in their place exists an overhauled offense and defense in need of new faces to fill its roles.
“When you lose 91 percent of your points and 82 percent of your minutes, you’re not sure what to expect,” fifth-year head coach Anthony Butch said.
Diese, who has had several solid games and helped the team to a 4-2 start this season, knows that she and her team needed a strong start in order to build belief in themselves following the graduation of all-time leading scorer Taylor Mikesell and her fellow seniors from last season.
“It was really important to get off to good start because we have a new and younger team, so it was all about learning in the first few games,” Diese said. “We felt we really had to step up as seniors and even the underclassmen too, not having one superstar player.”
Given that Mikesell is starting and averaging double figures in scoring for the University of Maryland as a freshman, it’s fair to say that her talent is missed by her former team, but Diese has more confidence in herself this season than she did during the course of last season and some of that owes to her game-winning shot in the district final.
Taking and making that shot proved to her that she could step up in the most pressure-packed of situations and she knows that she’ll probably get comments on it this season, when she’s around town in the years ahead and likely even when she runs into former teammates or members of the community when her playing career is years behind her. “I think all around people will still be talking about it … it was just a big game just for us school and team,” Diese said. “It definitely gives us as a team and me a lot more confidence to win a game like that.”
In the wake of that shot, the win and the subsequent regional final appearance, the offseason began with an overhaul of the program’s approach on both ends of the court. Knowing the offensive and defensive game plans needed to be tailored to this year’s roster, Butch and his staff worked on a scheme that would fit the talent they have this season.
“Five games into the year, we’ve been impressed with how the girls have responded and stepped up,” Butch said. “They’re been very coachable and played their butts off. We revamped the whole offense and defense … it’s a whole new scheme from what we had and getting wins validates everything we’ve tried hard to get across to the girls and help make them more focused and dialed in.”
Butch noted that after losing their primary ball handler from one year ago, opposing teams have looked to pressure the Polar Bears and force turnovers as a means of attacking a perceived weakness. Having Diese and the rest of the team’s back court handle the ball well and make good decisions when they face pressure will go a long way toward helping the team continue its winning ways as the season wears on.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier as league play ramps up and with McKinley and Hoover both looking strong out of the gate and two matchups with each of those foes are just four of the big barriers in the way for Jackson. Diese believes that playing well on one particular end of the court is essential to winning games in the new system Butch and assistant coach Gary Isler put in place.
“I’d say for us, it’s defense because whenever we get deflections or steals, it helps us on offensive end,” Diese said. “It’s all about energy and effort when we try to play good defense.”
When it comes to defense, the Polar Bears have been fairly consistent over the course of their first six games, holding all of their first six opponents to 47 or fewer points. If the offense can find its rhythm, then the transition should be fairly smooth.
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