---- — Having accumulated a 6-2 record playing down in Olney during the week, Neoga took its talents to the Effingham Shootout on Saturday for a three-game slate against area opponents. There, the Lady Indians kept their hot streak alive, beating CHBC, Teutopolis' 'B' team and North Clay to cap off an impressive 3-0 showing.
"I was definitely pleased," Neoga coach Kim Romack said. "I thought we came out ready to play. Our defensive intensity was increased a little bit, we're getting a little bit better on the offensive end."
Following the graduation of senior captains Stephanie Roderick and Kristin Deters, Neoga returns a solid nucleus of experienced players.That core was on display in the first game against CHBC where the Lady Indians picked up a 45-25 win over the Lady Hornets.
Rising junior Olivia Ott carried Neoga in the first half, scoring all 10 of her points before the break as the Lady Indians built a 23-12 halftime lead. Ott was on the receiving end of a number of possessions that featured multiple ball reversals, much to the delight of Romack.
"We're trying to work the ball a little bit and be patient," she said. "Look for our open shots. That's what we've spent our summer working on, trying to get out some of the problems we had last season."
It was to-be senior and returning captain Jillian Deters' turn in the second half. Deters battled in the low post for nine second-half points, closing with a game-high 12. Junior Madison Butler had eight points and sophomore-to-be E.C. Thies scored six to round out the four major contributors from a season ago.
"We kind of know what we have coming back with the four girls that started last year," Romack said. "This is kind of a chance to see who our fifth, sixth and seventh man is going to be, how girls are going to be able to help us out."
Scoring 36 of the team's 45 points, the foursome can light up a scoreboard. But it's on the defensive end where the role players made the largest impact, holding CHBC to 25 total points.
"Compared to where we were at the end of the year last year, our rebounding has improved, our defense is improving," Romack said. "We talk about the help-side defense, being able to step over and help out a little bit. We look for those basic things."
Neoga showed no letdown in the final two games, beating Teutopolis' 'B' team 39-34 and North Clay 63-27 to put an exclamation point on the day.
After losing do-everything IBCA first team all-state performer Micah Jones and fourth-teamer Ava Paruleski, in addition to solid contributor Autumn Riley, the shootout let CHBC coach Carolyn Wendte take a look at how her new team is going to take shape.
"With these tournaments, I don't play who I think is going to be my starting five," she said. "I let everyone rotate through. I just sort of see who my scorers are, who my rebounders are, what group clicks together and what group doesn't."
A lot of Saturday's offense flowed through rising juniors Chandler Ward and Jensyn Morrison, two players that saw some meaningful minutes during the Lady Hornets' run to the state finals in Normal.
The scoreboard didn't paint the prettiest of pictures for CHBC, but Wendte said her young team is already making headway.
"These kids have matured a lot during the summer," Wendte said. "We're not where we want to be yet. Just baby steps."
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.