Janesville Craig’s girls basketball players have been through the wringer.
The Cougars went 11-13 last season, with seven of those 13 losses coming by seven points or less.
They also had three players miss the entire season with knee injuries.
With five players returning who have started games at the varsity level, will all that experience and adversity pay off this winter?
“I feel like this team is going to come out with something to prove a little bit,” said Craig coach Kerry Storbakken, whose team opens its season Saturday with a Big Eight Conference home game against Beloit Memorial.
“We were in a lot of close games, and we didn’t finish last year,” the head coach said. This year, they have a little hop in their step and are ready to prove they can hang with the top teams.”
The Cougars have a strong core of seniors and a junior leading returning scorer to build around.
Seniors Hannah Dunlavy, Cassie Goswick, Rileigh Elgas and Sarah Gregg and junior Claudia Fieiras all have at least one full year of varsity experience.
“I’m really excited about the leadership with this group; they’re all friends and all get along,” Storbakken said. “We’ve been together for a while, so we’ve got experience and depth.”
Fieiras ranked among the top five in the Big Eight Conference and was a second-team all-conference selection as a sophomore.
Goswick was a second-team all-Big Eight Conference selection as a sophomore but missed all of last season while recovering from a knee injury. She is battling back from another injury to start the season but could return to the floor before the calendar flips to 2020.
Until then, the Cougars will ask their other returning players to step up and fill the scoring void left between the absence of Goswick and the loss of graduated senior Emily Pierson, who averaged 13.8 points in being named second-team all-league last year.
Dunlavy (6.0 points per game), Elgas (7.5) and Gregg (5.4) have all shown they can score at times but will likely be asked to do so more consistently as seniors.
“They’re very capable, and we’re telling them everybody can score,” Storbakken said. “You can’t just play defense, you’ve got to shoot the ball and be more assertive, be more aggressive.”
Sophomore guard Kate Huml was one of the first players off the bench last year and might crack the starting lineup as the season begins.
Senior forward Abbey Schrader is also returning after suffering a season-ending knee injury before the start of her junior year. She and sophomore Jessa Alderman, who also missed last year with a knee injury, should give the Cougars more depth at the post positions this year.
Freshman Ellie Magestro-Kennedy is expected to contribute at the guard position immediately.
And junior Emily Mergener, sophomore Bryn McBride and freshman Ella Clarke give Craig plenty of options.
“We had three players out with ACLs last year, and I think we wore down a little bit,” Storbakken said. “So hopefully our depth and experience will help us. We’ve got a lot of kids that have logged a lot of varsity minutes, and you hope that pays dividends.”