Bob Amsberry won’t pull any punches with this year’s Wartburg women’s basketball team.
Thanks to “as talented a (freshmen) class as we’ve had in a long, long time,” and five of their top seven scorers from last season returning, the Knights will look to take advantage of their depth.
“We feel like we’re deeper and more athletic than we’ve ever been. We need to use our depth. We’ll go 10 deep at least,” Amsberry said.
“We’re looking to extend heavy pressure in the full court. We’re athletic. We’re gonna try to press as much as we can to get into other teams’ benches, because I think our bench…we have 10 starters.”
The leading returning scorer is Kailey Kladivo, a 6-2 post who averaged 12 points and 7.1 rebounds a game last season, though she missed nine games with a concussion.
Amsberry says Kladivo looks better in the preseason than she ever has.
“She’s gotten more explosive. She’s more physical. She’s more athletic. She’s taken on a leadership role,” Amsberry said. “She is, right now, what we thought we were getting when we recruited her.”
Alyssa Sager, who earned first team all-conference honors as a junior while leading the Knights with 12.1 points per game last season, chose to forgo her final season to attend Allen College in Waterloo for nursing.
Luckily for the Knights, there are plenty of options to help fill the void on the wing, thanks in part to an incoming freshman.
Katie Sommer, who earned third-team all-state distinction last season at Linn-Mar, will be Wartburg’s starting point guard.
That allows seniors Holly Halstead (7.7 ppg) and Chelsey Wedeking (6.1 ppg) to move to the wing, where they fit better. Sommer’s twin sister, Kristie, is another option there.
Bobbi Burrows, easily the team’s best 3-point shooter, won’t have to shoulder as much of the load this year, either.
Burrows averaged 10.4 points last season, but shot just 29.5 percent from beyond the arc, a number that should go up with better shot selection, Amsberry said.
“She, because of who we were last year, had to do more than what we wanted her to do,” said Amsberry, noting Burrows was 9-for-11 from 3-point range in Wartburg’s two scrimmages. “If she can get her toes on the 3-point line instead of knocking down 25-footers, her percentage is gonna go way up.”
A change of heart back in August will also bolster Wartburg’s depth.
Morgan Neuendorf, a 2014 Waverly-Shell Rock alumna, originally committed to play basketball at Division II Minnesota State. After about a week there, she transferred to her hometown Wartburg and scored three goals for the school’s soccer team this fall.
“We’re lucky,” said Amsberry, who isn’t sure where Neuendorf will fit in yet since she hasn’t practiced much in the preseason due to the soccer season. “Morgan, with her size and athleticism, if we can play Morgan off the ball, I think that’s gonna allow us to be better as well.”
Seniors Mary Brown (5.0 ppg) and Allison Emrich (7.6 ppg) also return for the Knights, while 5-10 freshman Miranda Murphy, a Class 3A first-team all-state pick, provides another option.
Although Wartburg struggled to a 12-15 record last season, a four-game win streak at the end of the year — which came without last season’s only senior, Carly Jacobs, who tore her ACL after averaing 10.9 points — that included the program’s first win at Simpson in 10 years has them optimistic.
“We went through a season of growth last year. Faced all kinds of adversity and I felt like at the time that we went through all that with several key injuries, and I thought at some point it’s gonna pay off, and I think it has,” Amsberry said. “Our kids are tougher. We’re ready for about anything that we can face.”
Wartburg’s home opener is at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday against Grinnell.