Erich Murphy's Sez MEE column

Hoop season has arrived. Officially speaking, the prep hardwood campaign has gotten underway as of Monday. That’s when high schools across the Land of Lincoln were allowed to begin girls’ basketball practice.
    The area is blessed to have some quality teams and quality players this season. Pontiac may very well contend for the Corn Belt Conference championship and El Paso-Gridley will be looking to grab another state trophy.
    In taking in some of Pontiac’s practice on Monday, I noticed something. Mindy Whitehouse is one heck of a coach.
    Whitehouse came to Pontiac a few years ago to push the Indians into a winning direction. She had the background with some of the state’s best Class 1A teams at Ridgeview. The Mustangs made it to the state finals twice, coming away with third place each time.
    What I like about Coach Whitehouse is her matter-of-fact approach. She does not pull punches when she speaks to the players or to the media.
    Although some may not always find it pleasing to hear, it is nice to know she’s being frank and honest.
    Whitehouse does not like losing, as anyone who has been around her after a tough setback can attest. She is a winner and wants to build a winning program.
    So far she has done well, even though the Indians have not won a regional since 2008 and have only scored six regional titles since girls’ basketball started in the mid-1970s.
    One team has won a sectional, and that was in 1979.
    Depending on the placement, I believe Pontiac has a good shot at winning regional title No. 7.
    As always, it starts with the veterans. The Indians are loaded with experienced players, especially in the frontcourt. Seniors Kaela Hodges and twins Maddie and Michaela Dohleman bring size and will be in their third year of varsity ball.
    The backcourt is good, too. Senior Kelsey Walsberg has been playing since her freshman season and sophomore Ashley Harfst was a regular last season.
    Putting everything together will be the key. Whitehouse will do what she can to get her team playing the best it can play. The Indians will compete night in and night out, Whitehouse will make sure.
    Another team in the area who has a plethora of experience is El Paso-Gridley. The Titans have four-year starters Rebekah Ehresman and Codee Schlipf leading a group that will take aim at finishing higher than last season’s third-place effort at the Class 2A state finals.
    Kyle Bobbitt coaches the Titans and is another one of those intense bench bosses. Like Whitehouse, Bobbitt coaches and teaches, and he doesn’t berate, yell and embarrass his players.
    That is the ultimate key having a successful program — showing respect to the players while also guiding and teaching in a manner that is conducive to winning.
    Of course, talent has a lot to do with winning. Pontiac and EPG have loads of talent. Prairie Central has a number of returnees and will also be in the Corn Belt mix.
    It will be interesting to see how well the area teams do come February. How far will they travel down the state tournament series trail will be known when the time comes.
    What is known is the coaches will be doing all they can to prepare their respective teams for that time.