Ottawa girls basketball coach Brent Moore knew he’d be heading into his ninth season without do-it-all graduate Grace Carroll, but he didn’t expect to also be without top returning scorer and junior Marlie Orlandi.
Unfortunately, Orlandi, who averaged 14.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2 assists and 2.6 steals per game as a sophomore and garnered a number of postseason accolades, including being an Associated Press Class 3A All State honorable mention selection, suffered a knee injury in the summer and will miss the entire season.
“There are a lot of unknowns, but a lot of excitement as we start the season,” said Moore, who has a 128-85 career coaching mark. “We lost Grace, who was the leader and special player last season who did everything well, and Marlie, who was our top scorer and honorable mention all-stater. That said, there has been so much energy in our practices, and we have a group of girls who are willing to share the basketball and get it to a teammate for the open shot, so I think we are going to be OK.”
Ottawa finished last season 25-7 overall, second place in Interstate 8 Conference at 12-2 and reached its own Class 3A regional title game, falling to then state-ranked Geneseo by five points.
“This season, especially early on, is going to be like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. We’re going to find out which combinations work the best and keep working to be the best team we can be every time we take the floor.”— Brent Moore, Ottawa girls basketball coach
The Pirates will have three seniors on the roster - Kendall Lowery (5.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 2 apg, 2 spg), Hannah Waddell and Haley Waddell.
“Kendall has taken over for what Grace was as far as a vocal leader and what she brings to the floor is something you can’t teach or coach, and that’s the will to win,” Moore said. “She brings the energy and everyone feels it. That’s when she’s at her best, and when that’s the case we are better as a team. Hannah and Haley are both excellent perimeter shooters and that will help open up the floor.”
Moore’s squad will also have seven juniors, including Addy Miller, Skylar Dorsey, Jacy Miller, Ella Schmitz, Hailey Larsen (7 ppg, 6 rpg, I-8 HM), Ayla Dorsey and Charley Maierhoffer with classmate Ainsley Leonard missing the season after hip surgery.
“I feel like the depth we have is the best we’ve had in years,” Moore said. “We have girls up and down the roster who can and will be asked to contribute. Larsen is a fantastic defender and rebounder who will be expected to score more and the Dorsey sisters do everything very well. We are going to try to get Ella, who played point guard for the most part, off the ball this season and hopefully get her some more opportunities to shoot or drive.”
The group rounds out with sophomore Mary Stisser and freshman Ashlynn Ganiere.
“Mary didn’t get a ton of time on the varsity floor, but she’s put in a lot of hard work in the offseason and she’ll be asked to take on more of scoring and defensive role,” Moore said. “Ashlynn, even as a freshman, can handle the ball with poise, has great vision, is a solid defender and can really get to the rim and finish.”
Moore said he is not expecting much will change as far as Xs and Os go on either end of the floor for his team, but it may take some time to find the rotations and matchups that give his team the best chance to win.
“As in years past, we are still going to be looking to push the ball up the floor,” Moore said. “We have a ton of athleticism and speed to be able to do that. This season, especially early on, it’s going to be like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. We’re going to find out which combinations work the best and keep working to be the best team we can be every time we take the floor.”
Ottawa opens its season at 5:30 p.m. Monday in Fairbury against Mahomet-Seymour in pool play at the Bank of Pontiac Turkey Tip-Of hosted by Pontiac and Prairie Central. The Pirates then take on the host Hawks on at 7 p.m. Tuesday and East Peoria at 5:30 p.m. Thursday before a placement game on Saturday.