This season’s Pecatoncia Lady Indian basketball team is (from left): Payton Thomas, Kianna Degner, Elaina Rager, Jaysen Thome, Casey Martin, Lauren Mellentine, Addison Hamilton, Alexis Diedrich, Amani Boyd, Deasia Anderson, Anna McLevige, Delaney Handy, Peyton Lalowski, Ava Ackerman, and Josephine Frint.

By Trenten Scheidegger

    The Pecatonica Indians girls’ basketball team is coming off a year in which the team finished 22-11 overall. It was the second consecutive season in which the Indians posted 22 victories. This year, the Indians and their head coach, Daniel Rosenstiel, are hoping to see the team take that next step.

    Last season brought bountiful success to the Pecatonica program. Not only did they capture the third regional championship in program history, but it was also their first back-to-back regional championship. The Indians will have to replace two key members from those squads in Paige Moore and Lauren Rager. Despite that, Pecatonica has all the reasons to think they can take things up a notch in 2023-24.

    “Losing those two hurts, but at the same time, it’s kind of a good problem to have. We have a lot of those kids back,” Rosenstiel shared, ahead of the season. Among the girls back are three NUIC-North All-Conference players. Elaina Rager immediately stands out on paper. Last year, Rager was the NUIC-North’s Most Valuable Player, and she did that as just a sophomore. This year, Rosenstiel said they are “expecting another big step from her” and added that she “is one of the hardest workers in the area. She’s been playing high-level basketball for most of her life.”

    The Indians also return Lauren Mellentine, who has one of the best jump shots in school history. Mellentine, a senior guard, owns the Pecatonica record for made three-pointers. Last year, Mellentine averaged near 10 points per game and Rosenstiel called her, “One of the best shooters in the area.”

    Pecatonica also returns junior forward, Payton Thomas. Thomas was the third All-Conference selection for the Indians last year, and the staff is hopeful to see her take her game to the next level this year. “She has put on more muscle, she’s really hit the weightroom, which has been great. She’s a really good inside-outside threat, especially for her height, she can handle the ball at guard, and she can also go in the paint. That versatility makes her tough to guard,” Rosenstiel shared.

    Joining them are two major pieces in helping the Pecatonica offense – a pair of senior shooters in Jayden Thome and Addie Hamilton. They’re back and Rosenstiel called them both, “Really good, consistent shooters.” The Pecatonica coach added that he is hoping to see Hamilton build her confidence and take more shots, this season.

    Finally, the Indians return senior Casey Martin. For Pecatonica, Martin brings it all together as she can do a little bit of everything. Rosenstiel called her the “Swiss Army Knife” before going on to explain that Martin “can guard guards, she can guard posts. She does a really good job of getting up underneath the taller players, but also, she’s athletic enough to keep up with guards. She’s probably our best rebounder and she’s also probably our smartest player. She keeps the team organized and she does a really good job of knowing where everyone is supposed to be. I’m excited for her this year.”

    In addition to those, the Indians have an interesting newcomer, even though she is experienced with the team. Kianna Degner is back after not playing last year, and Rosenstiel is hopeful she can have a major impact. “We are extremely excited to have her back. I think she has the potential to be one of the best guards in the area. She can score it from the inside, has the ability to attack the rim, but she can also catch and shoot. She’s really good and I think she’s a great compliment to our style of play,” Rosenstiel shared.

    The Pecatonica coach added that they are expecting big things from a pair of sophomores in Amani Boyd and Lexi Diedrich. The returning experience, in addition to the exciting newcomers, is the main reason for Pecatonica’s early confidence. “We will be eight to ten deep. We have a lot of kids back, so we are expecting some big things from them,” Rosenstiel said.

    The Indians’ coach is hoping to see the guard play lead the way this year. “We have a lot of shooting and a lot of speed, which is great. We want to play a fast-tempo game. Having Kianna back will really help us push the tempo and we’ll get to use Rager and Mellentine in some different areas than last year, where they were more ball dominant. This year, we should be able to get them off the ball a little more, which will be really nice to have,” Rosenstiel explained.

    Rosenstiel mentioned that if there is anything the team is lacking, it’s height. The Indians will have to rely on Martin on the boards, but the team will need to put in the extra effort in crashing the class and chasing rebounds.

    After back-to-back 22-win seasons, the 2023-24 Indians are hoping to break the school win record with at least 23 this year. “We want to get over that hurdle and hopefully break the record for wins,” Rosenstiel shared, before adding that the team “wants to win the first ever Sectional ball game. The girls’ program and the boys’ program have never won a Sectional game. Both programs want to break that this year.” Rosenstiel also acknowledged how tough that can be in not only an impressive NUIC Conference, but in a tough basketball area in general. The Indians embrace the challenge, however, as Rosenstiel said, “In order to be the best, you got to beat the best.”

    The Indians opened their season with a matchup against Ashton Franklin Center on Nov. 13. To end this week, the Indians are participating in the Oregon Tournament. Things pick up on Wednesday, Nov. 29, when the Indians play host to North Boone.

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