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Loaded Lady Pioneers team to beat in JPC

By Ben Murphy
Photo by Ben Murhpy

With several key pieces back from last year’s Jack Pine Conference championship squad, second year head coach Matt Rodenbo is confident in his Clare Lady Pioneer basketball team.

“I really like where we’re at right now,” Rodenbo said. “We have a lot of experience returning and they worked really hard in the off-season.

Clare returns eight players from last year’s team that went 17-4 overall and went a perfect 14-0 in league play to claim it’s second straight JPC title. Their season ended with an overtime loss to Pine-River in district play.

“Our goal every year is to advance as far as we can in the tournament and these girls are hungry for that,” Rodenbo said. “We lost to a good Pine-River team last year and I think that has made us hungry for a long run.”

Those returning to the team are seniors Ashley Petree (guard/forward), Courtney English (forward), Melissa Benchley (forward), Paige Onstott (forward) and Liz Fancon (center), juniors Alex Stark (guard/forward), Corrine Wezensky (center) and Lindsay Winter (guard). Winter, Petree and Benchley all return for their third varsity seasons. Winter averaged 18 points per game and was a JPC first-teamer, Benchley made first-team all-conference as well averaging eight points a game and Petree took second-team honors averaging seven points a contest.

New to the team are juniors Haley Pulcifer (guard/forward), Amanta Yats (forward/center), Kodi Humphrey (forward/center) and Tara Pummell (guard).

With so many pieces returning, the coach understands why expectations for his squad are as high as they are.

“We think that we’re the team to beat,” Rodenbo said. “We need to understand we still have to work for it. We’re confident but we realize it’s not going to happen without working hard and proving ourselves.”

The Lady Pioneers have several challengers looking to make noise in the JPC as well.

“I think Beaverton will have a good squad, Roscommon and Gladwin have some returning players and Farwell will be very competitive,” Rodenbo said. “Roscommon is a young team and I expect them to get better throughout the year. Our girls know we have to go out and compete as a team, anybody can beat anybody.”

Clare opens its season tonight (Friday) at Houghton Lake and hosts Saginaw Nouvel on Tuesday.

“This is a great group of girls to coach,” Rodenbo said. “We are looking forward to getting the season started.”