Heading into their matchup with reigning Hoosier Hills Conference champions Bedford North Lawrence, it was the Seymour girls basketball players who had a target on their back.
Despite BNL’s 30-game conference winning streak and four titles, it was the Owls who were expected to take the win.
With a slew of upperclassmen returning, including their starting five, coaches in the HHC have taken notice of Seymour.
Tuesday, the Owls (2-0) lived up to their expectations, downing the Class 4A No. 11 Stars 46-39.
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The win was a huge step early in the season.
“Not only beating Bedford, but picking up a conference win is big,” Owls coach Jason Longmeier said. “We set the tone early. We knew that we have everyone’s attention with the seniors and juniors returning. We know we’re going to get everyone’s best shot, but to start off with a win against BNL is a huge deal.
“In our office, we play for those expectations as coaches — that’s what you want. We want to embrace it. It’s better to be considered great than someone who isn’t a contender. We want it. I think our conference is a much better conference than people think.”
In past years, the Owls finished their season against BNL before sectional.
While the victory against the Stars is sweet, the Owls know that the HHC will be a battle the rest of the way.
“We definitely knew they were going to be the biggest obstacle, but we still have a lot of good teams we are going to play who could be just as good,” Owls senior Maci Lubker siad. “I’m kind of glad we played them early because we always played them the last game and then in the sectional. We got a good look at early on.”
Senior Morgan Ritz added, “We have one of the tougher conferences in the state. We’re not going to have a conference game that isn’t going to be a challenge.”
The biggest obstacles left for the Owls, who have tied for a Hoosier Hills Conference title once in the program’s history, are New Albany, Columbus East and Jennings County.
New Albany narrowly fell to reigning state champion Columbus North, which is currently ranked third in Class 4A, 39-32 this past week — showing they can hang with very good teams.
Longmeier said that Jennings County has a a strong group of guards that will play tough, and Columbus East is always solid.
The HHC title could come down to the last game of the regular season, when the Owls travel to New Albany on Jan. 28.
“Its going to be good conference season,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if someone goes undefeated through it, but one or two losses might also win it.”
The Owls should crack next week’s class rankings if they defeat Silver Creek on the road tonight.
One of the biggest changes the Owls have made this season is their offensive sets.
Right now, the Owls are running four sets with lots of passing and post play opposed to the drive-and-dish system of 2014.
The girls on the team have embraced the change and said they think they are getting more players involved.
“It’s a lot more fun having everyone involved,” Ritz said. “We have a lot more options. We are creating a lot more opportunities to score.”
Lubker said that this year’s team is the deepest the Owls have been in her four years of varsity.
“We’ve had really good classes come through, but I feel like the senior and junior class have a ton of experience,” she said. “We’ve been together since middle school. We feed off each other.”
Before BNL, the Owls took a blow to their starting lineup.
Prior to the game, the Owls found out that starting senior Emilee Pollmann will miss four to six weeks with a meniscus injury which was sustained last week.
Pollmann, a two-time All-HHC player, led the Owls with 22 minutes, 11.5 points and 2.1 steals per game in 2014.
The five-foot-11 forward recorded 275 points in total.
Junior guard Lauren James, who mostly played in a sixth-player role last season, earned the start against BNL.
Pollmann provides more than numbers in the scorebook on the floor, and Longmeier said that other girls are going to have to step up in her absence.
“We’re going to have to be better conditioned — now we’re not as deep as we expected,” Longmeier said. “We will have to ride horses a little harder than we expected.
“If we play defense like we have the past two games, we’re going to be alright. We’ve gotten after it (defensively). We need to get rid of the turnovers. Emilee has always been our calming presence, and I think Maci (Lubker) has to be that now. She needs to get us into the flow of games for the next four to six weeks.”
Lubker topped the Owls with 14 points against BNL from the point.
Junior Kayla Griffin chipped in 12 points and added 12 rebounds, Ritz finished with seven and eight boards, while senior forward/center Mikayla Fee contributed eight points and eight rebounds to step up against BNL.
Moving forward, Longmeier wants his team to stay mentally focused — a facet that the Owls struggled with at times last year as they finished 17-7.
“You have to play like we did against Bedford every game,” he said. “If we don’t, like we saw last year, teams like Austin, North Harrison and those guys will knock you off. We have to bring it ever night — and I think that this group understands that.”
2015 Seymour Hoosier Hills Conference Schedule
Nov. 10 Bedford North Lawrence (W, 46-49)
Nov. 24 Floyd Central
Dec. 12 Madison
Jan. 8 Columbus East
Jan. 15 at Jennings County
Jan. 19 at Jeffersonville
Jan. 28 at New Albany