Girls derail Kankakee in opener

Bryan Veginski
Washington junior Amanda Nixon goes in for a second-quarter lay-up Monday during the girls basketball team’s 78-17 thumping of Kankakee on the first night of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.

Washington possesses a lot of options as it looks to generate an exciting girls basketball season.

Although the Lady Panthers lost three players who started many games over the last couple seasons, they have enough holdovers left to keep ambitions high.

After dealing with a couple ankle injuries, Washington is returning to form as it plays four games this week in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.

“It’s going pretty good so far,” said WCHS girls head coach Randy Marchand. “We’re starting to get back to where we’re full strength.”

Marchand installed a new offense, which has a little more organization and relies on reading and reacting.

The Lady Panthers will get better with the offense as the season moves along and their comfort level increases.

Senior Jaymi Holloman is a third-year starting forward.

She averaged 7.5 points and a team-high 5.6 rebounds per game as a junior for a Washington team that was 16-12 overall. Holloman sank 48 percent of her field goals.

Marchand is expecting Holloman to be a leader, stay consistent and take her game even farther.

In the second half of last year, Holloman played some of her best basketball.

Lexi Grayer, a junior guard/forward, came on strong after

getting inserted into the starting line-up in 2007-08.

She was a 46-percent shooter from the field and nearly doubled her 5.8 ppg average when she started. Grayer also provided four rebounds per night.

“She’s improved her game since last year,” Marchand said of Grayer. “She’s going to be one of our go-to-players this year.”

Listed at 5-foot-9, Grayer plays bigger than her size.

Senior guard Sara Ohlman started some games a year ago and wound up at 4.6 ppg. She returns the most made three-point baskets.

Marchand thinks Ohlman will have a good year. If she delivers, it will add another dimension for the Lady Panthers.

Ohlman, who now stands 5-9, enters the season with positive  momentum after reaching the girls tennis state final in the fall.

The other senior is guard Jaquie Flanagan.

She appeared in 27 games as a junior and has shown a desire to work at her game.

Lindsey Boyer, a junior guard, will be one of the players in contention for a ballhandling role after playing in 27 varsity contests as a sophomore.

Brandi Pudik, who distributed a team-record 211 assists a year ago, was lost to graduation, along with Lexie Heinold and Sara Hamilton.

As a senior, Heinold set the single-season three-point record for the second year in a row with 82.

Hamilton was the team Most Valuable Player after leading Washington in scoring (14.1), field-goal shooting (.509), free-throw shooting (.774) and rebounding (8.0).

The trio garnered a combined six first- or second-team all-conference awards in ’06-07 and ’07-08.

Junior guard Moriah Peterson should garner playing time.

Center Lexie Barra, a sophomore, has a good chance to be on the floor regularly.

“I think we can play a lot of people,” Marchand said.

Junior forward Dani Frye is a role player looking to make a contribution.

A couple move-ins, junior twins Amanda and Nikki Nixon, are part of the squad.

Amanda could see time at a guard position with her ability to take the ball to the basket.

At 5-11, Lady Panther sophomore center Abby Clanin is a player who could help form a tall inside trio at times.

Sophomore guard Jennica Hipes also is listed on the Washington roster.

Marchand is hopeful the Lady Panthers can be a better defensive team that they were last year.

Washington finished in a three-way tie for fourth place in the conference with Canton and Dunlap with a 6-8 record.

The Lady Giants got the nod from Marchand as a preseason M-I pick as they are loaded with returnees.

Defending champion Metamora certainly is a contender, and the Eagles also could be part of the conference’s upper division.

With the area’s best player in Brooke Bisping, Morton will be a factor in the race as well.

Washington seems to be one of the five teams who could win the M-I championship.

Marchand said whichever team can make plays at the end and win the close games will emerge.

Even Pekin likely will be much-improved following a last-place showing. The Dragons return a lot of solid players who gained experience last season.

Limestone, the runner-up in coach Kevin Metzger’s first girls season, was devastated by graduation and lost one of its top-two players, Kelsie Weynand, who moved out of the state.

East Peoria is in a rebuilding mode after losing cornerstone player Khassandrae Brown.

The Lady Panthers opened their season Monday at Pontiac with a 78-17 win against Kankakee.

Washington was in control from the beginning with a 10-0 run offsetting a basket in the opening seconds by the Lady Kays.

Grayer scored 21 points, 15 in the first half, to lead four Lady Panther double-figure scorers.

Holloman added 15 points, including a 5-of-5 effort at the free-throw line, and Ohlman chipped in 13, with nine

points coming in the second half.

Barra’s first varsity game was successful as she posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

“It’s going to be hard to keep her off the floor,” said Marchand of Barra. “She gives us some length.”

Barra and Ohlman both came off the bench, giving Washington 29 points from its reserves.

“It was a good first game. We got to see a lot of people play,” Marchand said.

It was 18-8 after one quarter before the Lady Panthers outscored Kankakee 23-6 in the second.

Grayer had nine points in the period and Holloman six as Washington’s taller players were too athletic and aggressive on the boards for the Lady Kays.

The Lady Panthers held Kankakee scoreless for the final 6:40 of the third quarter in expanding their bulge to 65-16 with eight minutes remaining.

Washington was 10-of-11 at the line, part of an impressive 12-of-14 effort in the second half.

Holloman, Grayer and Barra all provided six points, and the Lady Panthers owned a 16-5 rebounding cushion.

Despite a running clock in the fourth quarter, Washington still managed 13 points and held the Lady Kays to a lone free throw.

Ohlman collected seven points in the fast-paced frame, with her second bucket coming on an impressive Boyer assist.

The Lady Panthers’ pressure defense helped create nearly 40 Kankakee turnovers.

Boyer had five points, while Peterson, Flanagan and

Amanda Nixon all supplied four.

Jasmine Jefferson’s eight points led the Lady Kays, who seem to be in for a long season.

While Washington’s victory was a great way to start the year, the girls realize it will get much harder quickly.

The contest against Kankakee was the first of three in pool play.

Tournament games continue tomorrow (vs. Ottawa), Friday (vs. Morris) and Saturday.

Marchand listed the Lady Pirates as the favorite with their slew of returnees.

Saturday’s action pairs the teams from pools A and B with corresponding finishes.

With five titles in the last six years, Washington is a target of other teams.

New coach: Washington added Danielle VanMeenen to its staff as a varsity assistant.

VanMeenen was a former Geneseo High School athlete before playing hoops at Augustana College.