GNADENHUTTEN ----- Having lost just one player to graduation from last season's 15-9 team which reached the Division III District, fifth-year Indian Valley girls' basketball coach Randy Emler has plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the 2013-2014 edition of Lady Braves hoops.
Four of those reasons return with a combined 42 points per outing last year. Collectively, seniors Emily Baker (5-7 guard), Paige Saho (5-6 forward) and Katie Shamel (5-8 forward) along with junior Sydney Kandray (5-6 guard) bring nine years of varsity experience into the campaign.
Baker was the most highly decorated of the quartet, being named to the District 5 first team, the East District second team and first team all-PAC. Saho earned second team for District 5 and third team for the East District.
Shamel pocketed honorable mention status in District 5 and special mention status for the East District.
Kandray was named to the honorable mention District 5 team.
Another senior, Brittani Garbrandt (5-4 guard), also has a trio of varsity letters to her credit. The other returning letterwinner is sophomore Courtney Mizer (5-9 forward).
Completing the varsity roster are juniors Kara Barger (5-8 guard), Allicia Jenkins (5-7 guard) and Breanna Rennard (5-8 junior); soph Brooklyn Affolter (5-5 guard) and freshmen Taylor Williams (5-7 guard) and Megan Baker (5-10 forward) .
Jenkins, Baker, Affolter, Rennard and Williams will also see considerable playing time at the junior varsity level along with freshmen Elena Barlock (5-7 guard), Alisha Garbrandt (5-1 guard), Tricia Kohl (5-5 guard) and Ashley Tschudy (5-8 guard).
Departed from the Lady Braves' program is Courtney Emler. She averaged 10 points per game last year.
With such a talented and deep group of returnees, look for the Lady Braves to pick up where they left off last season. Anything short of another return to district play could be viewed as a disappointment.
"Our kids have developed a winning mentality," Emler noted. "We have loads of experience and quickness. We will continue to play up tempo basketball with lots of pressure defense.
"I'm a little concerned about our lack of size," he continued, "but we've proven we can still rebound with taller teams because of our quickness and tenacity.
"If we want to continue to move towards having a Berlin Hiland type program,"the IV coach related, "we can't take any steps backward. We have to keep improving our program."
Emler feels his squad is set to battle for the PAC title along with Manchester, Triway and Fairless. Some non-league schedule highlights include contests against Ridgewood and Claymont.
Yet another challenge for Emler's program is its elevation to Division II for the next two seasons.
"It means we'll face different schools in the sectional," he said, "and, on paper, a tougher road to tourney success."
Last year's squad was ousted in D-III District play by West Muskingum.
Assisting Emler with the high school program will be Todd Gardner, Caitlin Deetz, Jeff Baker and Jeff Struchan while Brittany Mizer, Amanda Hartzler and Jen Simmerman will direct the junior high players.