Without question, losing two of the area’s top players to graduation was bound to drag down the Greenwood girls basketball team.
Or was it?
Seven games in, the Woodmen show no signs of sinking.
They are, in fact, soaring.
Off to their best start in team history, the defending sectional champion Woodmen are 7-0 and ranked No. 5 in Class 4A.
That’s not all.
Recent winners of the Johnson County Tournament championship, one of the few prizes that eluded them last season, the Woodmen are 2-0 in Mid-State Conference play and poised to successfully defend that title.
They also are among the state’s top defensive teams, allowing only 36 points per game, and have vanquished four opponents by double figures.
Surprised? It’s OK if you are.
Even coach Debbie Guckenberger is somewhat taken aback — albeit pleasantly — by the torrid pace.
“I don’t know that I expected us to be (undefeated) at this point,” said Guckenberger, who’s in her 10th season as head coach. “I sure was hoping we could be, but I definitely was not expecting it.
“I thought we could just as easily be 5-2 as 7-0.”
That’s because Greenwood, coming off its first sectional championship in team history, was probably going to need time to adjust to the graduation losses of standouts Kailey Evans and Alexis Swearingen, who were first-team All-County selections last year.
But the Woodmen haven’t missed a beat.
Buoyed by the return of senior starters Kelsie Ratliff, Chloe Orrvar and Deauna Evans, along with senior Jordan Unversaw, an occasional starter last season, the Woodmen have performed like a team determined to outperform last year’s 18-3 squad.
Then again, outperforming that team — which lost a 49-42 first-round regional heart-breaker against Columbus North — is precisely what this season’s edition is determined to do.
“We don’t want to let anyone down because we did so well last year,” said Ratliff, the team’s top rebounder (8.4 rpg) and second-leading scorer (12.4 ppg). “We have most of our team returning; and losing in the first round of regionals last year, it hurt.
“We don’t want that to happen again.”
Orrvar, who averages 9.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and a team-high 4.0 assists per game, agreed.
“It makes all of us want to go back. We want to be able to cut down the sectional nets. We want to go further than we did last year,” Orrvar said. “We just want to keep improving.”
Led offensively by Evans (15.6 ppg), the Woodmen typically wear down opponents with balanced offense and smothering defense. Greenwood has not allowed more than 48 points in any game and has contained all but two opponents to below 40.
“We’re all communicating really well right now, especially on defense,” Ratliff said. “We’ve all been playing together for so long. We know each other. We are confident right now, but we can’t get too confident.
“It is a long season, and it’s just the beginning right now.”
But it’s a pretty encouraging beginning for a team that has likely surprised a few opponents who expected them to struggle in the wake of graduation losses.
“I think a lot of people did doubt us a little bit with losing two leaders last year, and I think we have proved a lot of people wrong,” Orrvar said. “We’ve have had people step up when they’ve needed to, knock down shots when they’ve needed to, hit their free throws, play good defense.
“I think a lot of people have really picked up the slack for losing two great leaders last year.”
One of the players who has stepped in to the fill the void is freshman Holly Hoopingarner, who is part of a starting lineup that includes Ratliff, Orrvar, Evans and Unversaw. Hoopingarner averages 6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds and hasn’t exactly played like a freshman.
“That has certainly helped us. I was not expecting her to be as significant as she has been for us this early,” Guckenberger said. “I was hoping by midseason she’d be where she’s at now, but she has certainly been a bright spot.”
In total, it’s added up to a 7-0 record for a veteran team that isn’t interested in basking in the status quo.
Driven to tidy up unfinished postseason business, the Woodmen are pleased with their start but view it merely as a launching pad for a higher objective.
“We’re not getting cocky whatsoever. We know winning county wasn’t all (there is) for us,” Orrvar said. “We’re not done yet. We’re ready to keep going. We are taking it game by game.
“We’re not getting cocky about it.”