The Tipton girls basketball team had a historic run last season, winning its first 24 games of the season and reaching the state quarterfinal.
Despite losing five seniors to graduation, the Cardinals have continued to click this year, racing out to an 8-3 record after beating Russellville 55-21 Monday.
“We’re getting to be a better team and work together more and have better teamwork,” said senior guard Destiny Dowell. “We just keep our intensity and get the ball rolling and keep shooting like we did.”
Dowell, Maddie Eldringhoff and Alyson Brant are the only players on the 2015-16 team who saw significant playing time in 2014-15. Senior McKenzie Higgins has stepped into the starting lineup and senior Annie Martin has become a key player off the bench.
The Cardinals also have a boost from Brooklyn Pace who has earned a spot in the starting lineup as a freshman.
“Girls that didn’t get to play last year have stepped up and played nicely,” said Tipton coach Jason Culpepper. “Having a freshman like Brooklyn who can come in and play every minute of the game and she had 14 (points in the win over Russellville). That’s really good for us.”
Tipton can show its inexperience at times. Monday against Russellville, the Indians came out in a press and the Cardinals turned the ball over four times in the first five possessions of the game.
“We came out really kind of lackadaisical taking care of the ball,” Culpepper said. “The first two times we tried to break the press, we took off dribbling against them. Anytime you face a zone press and you dribble, you’re going to dribble towards a defender. Once they got calmed down, once (Russellville’s) coach took a 30-second time out, I got them calmed down. Once again, that’s having a young team, not a lot of experience. We’re starting to figure it out. It will benefit us down the road. … Last year we came out hot the first and third quarters, this year we haven’t really figured out how to open and close games yet.”
Tipton’s defense has been important to its 8-3 start. Russellville turned the ball over 23 times Monday with Dowell coming away with six steals and taking a charge. Brant had four steals. Culpepper said the key to that has been a defense which can pick its spots, knowing when going after a steal is likely to result in a layup at the other end, and knowing when it is likely to give the other team a clear path to the basket.
“If we can continue to not foul and not give up easy looks when we pressure, it’s tough for an offense to attack it because we keep you in front of us but also we try not to gamble,” Culpepper said. “We only had two times (against Russellville) where we gambled and didn’t get burnt, but we did gamble. We’re starting to break those bad habits.”
So far this season, Tipton has allowed 74 points in a loss to Southern Boone and 89 in a loss to California, but also held Smithton to 24 and Chamois to 27.
Dowell said it is due to hard work that the Cardinals have gotten off to another good start.
“When you go to practice every day, you’ve just got to go focused,” she said. “Focus on getting better and it’s working for us right now.”
Eric Ingles can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @Eric_Ingles