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Redbank Valley girls go from winless to title contender

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 11:00 p.m.
Bill West | Tribune-Review
Redbank Valley freshman Brooke Hinderliter (center) has averaged more than 20 points per game for the Lady Bulldogs, who play Moniteau today in the District 9 Class AA quarterfinals.
Redbank Valley's Emma Kennemuth brings the ball up the court during practice on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012.

Even as she relished the praise she received from people when she hung around her father's plumbing, heating and air-conditioning maintenance shop, Redbank Valley senior Alex Bell feared that her Bulldogs basketball team, in the midst of an astounding turnaround, might soon regress.

When January arrived, Redbank Valley, a team that went winless in 2011-12, sat just above .500 with a 4-3 record.

But rather than unravel, as Bell had worried, the Bulldogs began a stretch that might ultimately put their season among the program's best in about a decade.

With five games left in its regular season, including four against Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference South division members, Redbank Valley is 12-5 overall. Going .500, once a goal, is a given. The Bulldogs, winners of five in a row and eight of their last nine, now are adjusting to the idea that they could contend for a District 9 Class AA championship.

“We didn't think it'd be at all like this ... we wanted to win one game, because we wanted to be better than last year,” said Bell, a guard who belonged to last season's 0-22 team. “We're really grateful that it's turned out like this so far.

“I think we all sort of felt like we had to keep going so that people knew that it wasn't (a fluke).”

With Bell, senior forward Erica Bowersox, junior center Emma Kennemuth and junior forward Madison McClaine back, Redbank Valley possessed the experienced pieces needed to avoid a second winless campaign.

But the Bulldogs' luck first changed for the better with the arrival of freshman Brooke Hinderliter, a 5-foot-6 point guard with a reputation for running offenses beautifully.

She delivered immediately, scoring 23 in the season-opener, a 42-33 win over Brockway in the DuBois tip-off tournament. A night later, she finished with 18 to help Redbank Valley top the host team in the tournament championship.

“I felt very pressured; I know I talked to my parents a lot about how pressured I felt every day, and they just told me to keep my head up,” Hinderliter said. “And my teammates were good to me and helped me through it.”

Her productivity is yet to dip; she's averaging 20.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game.

“We needed that true point guard to take over that role,” second-year coach Robin Martin said. “Then, for everyone else, there's no worry about everybody bringing the ball up together. They can run down and set up the offense now.”

The rest of the girls, free to focus on their roles in the offense, have flourished as well. The scoring is balanced: Bell averages 7.2 points per game; McClaine 7.1; Kennemuth 6.3; and Bowsersox 6.1.

“Brooke was like the puzzle piece we needed,” Bell said. “Now we all mesh together, and we work well together.”

Martin identified Kennemuth as the critical yin to Hinderliter's yang. When the 5-9 Kennemuth excels inside — she averages 8.5 rebounds per game — opponents must respect the paint, which, in turn, opens up opportunities for the guards.

Bowersox, also 5-9, adds to Redbank Valley's frontcourt strength by averaging 5.6 rebounds a contest.

Redbank Valley's success already has surpassed anything experienced in the past few years. Four more wins ties for the most since 2007; winning out would tie for the most since 2004.

“Losing all of our games last year just made us more determined to win this year,” McClaine said. “I think that was on our minds for a long time. ... The first couple games, we wanted to remember that.

“But now it's like, ‘This is our team now, and we're much better than we were.' ”

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