Third-team IBCA All-State selection Candace Niemerg left the Dieterich basketball program for Lake Land College after scoring 1,592 points and grabbing 1,295 rebounds in her high school career.
Her departure for college hoops left the Lady Maroons with large shoes to fill, and coach Donetta Ohnesorge's team took the first step in solving that puzzle Thursday at the four-day Effingham Shootout.
"We lost a big inside game (from) last year with Candace," Ohnesorge said. "I feel with time we're going to be there."
After skipping out on a pair of other summer tournaments, Dieterich made its first appearance in live game action Thursday. Day one culminated in a 42-20 defeat to Salem in which the Lady Maroons experienced some growing pains.
"We've spent a lot of time in the gym with fundamentals," Ohnesorge said. "It's going to take some time to get these kids playing with one another. I've seen improvements even from the beginning of the day."
Playing without Niemerg for the first time in half a decade, Dieterich turned toward returning starters Mallorie Vahling, Courtney Flach and Taylor Wright to take on larger roles.
The trio scored four points apiece for the Lady Maroons against Salem, contributing 12 of Dieterich's 20 points.
"They're ready to be leaders I think," Ohnesorge said. "They're going to be good role models for these younger ones. I'm really proud of what they're bringing to the team."
Flach looked strong in the first half against the Lady Wildcats, scoring all four of her points in the opening 20 minutes. The to-be junior will again be the primary ball-handler for Ohnesorge's club, and will look to create more scoring chances off the dribble.
Wright hit a pair of open jumpers, displaying the ability to draw the defense away from the post where Vahling will take on a dramatically bigger role.
Much like Niemerg, Vahling displayed a number of talents against Salem. With Flach in the lineup, she anchored the post and crashed the glass. When Flach left the game for a breather, her junior classmate took over more responsibilities in the backcourt.
"That's kind of how we used Candace last year," Ohnesorge said. "We told her she's going to have to give us some ball help too. Use her possible as a one, maybe a two, all the way down to a five. She knows what we're expecting of her, she's going to give it her all."
The offense will come in time for the Lady Maroons, but it's the defense where Ohnesorge hopes to see improvement. Dieterich was playing in its third game of the day, but too often the Salem fast break was able to generate easy looks at the bucket.
"We're not doing enough talking," Ohnesorge said. "Definitely not enough communicating, that's something we will develop. We're going to try some different defenses."
Dieterich's base defense was a 2-3 zone in 2012, allowing a thin roster to last added minutes.
Now, with a sizable freshman class, the Lady Maroons could play more man-to-man than what other teams are accustomed to seeing.
"We have never been used to doing a lot of subbing with our size," Ohnesorge said.
Summer tournaments offer up the perfect opportunity for teams to try new sets and styles, playing multiple games a day to figure out what's working.
"We're seeing what we can get by with," Ohnesorge said. "I think we'll get it."
Dieterich plays its first game in today's action at 2 p.m. at the Effingham Rec Center.
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org