Mitchell Christian eyes continued improvement despite short bench

The Golden Eagles will rely on defense to offset depth concerns this season.

Mitchell Christian's Keely O'Neill (33) looks for an open teammate against Ethan's Lexi Lingemann (22) and Maddy Bartscher, right, on last season at MCS gym. (Ryan Deal / Republic)

Depth and defense will be the focal points for the Mitchell Christian School girls basketball team throughout what is assured to be an uncertain winter.

The Golden Eagles return five players from a 7-13 squad a year ago and they will garner most of the crucial minutes this season. Mitchell Christian will not have the luxury of offering significant rest during games like some of the top teams on the schedule, so relying on defense when fatigue impacts shooting late in games is key.

With nine players on the roster, the Golden Eagles are also vulnerable to potential COVID-19 outbreaks, which could bring the season to a screeching halt at any moment.

“If we have two or three girls out, we’re done for two weeks,” Mitchell Christian head coach Chris Nebelsick said. “It’s definitely a challenge, but we’re not focusing our team around that. If something happens, something happens. But we have to coach like we’re going to be playing every game and we’re all going to be healthy and we don’t have any room to spare.”

Mitchell Christian averaged 35.6 points per game last season and lost leading scorer Anna Cooper from offense that was often boom or bust. The Golden Eagles averaged 48.4 points in wins, but 31.8 in losses.


Junior Audrey Hofer steps into the role of go-to offensive player and the 5-foot-8 forward has shown an ability score in bunches, with a 33-point performance against Iroquois/Doland last season. Staci Wolbrink returns as the point guard after missing last season with an illness, while Maggie Reynen has been a consistent contributor the last two seasons.

Guard Keely O’Neill moves into the starting lineup this season, while fellow junior Whisper Eben rounds out the starters.

Consistent shooting has been a struggle for Mitchell Christian, but Nebelsick says the girls cannot let an off night discourage them.

“Sometimes we shoot amazing, sometimes we don’t,” Nebelsick said. “Our girls play their hearts out all the time and sometimes the shots just don’t go in and that’s frustrating. But we’re happy with the way things went last year with the situation we were in. As long as the girls are having fun, I don’t care. I just want them to have the mentality of a winning team.”

Region 4B could offer the Golden Eagles a difficult schedule, particularly with Ethan and Howard, both of whom qualified for the state tournament last season. But the goal for Mitchell Christian is to hit a .500 record and to play with confidence heading into playoff time.

“Once we get to regions, anything can happen,” Nebelsick said. “So, if we’re doing good, playing confident and having fun, it doesn’t matter what team you come up against. If you do the right things, anything can happen. … Our girls have talent, so if we can coach them up, they’ve got a chance.”

Mitchell Christian dropped its season opener to Gayville-Volin, 45-35, on Dec. 7.

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