Bulldogs will make up for youth, lack of size with quickness and heart

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The MFL MarMac girls basketball team includes (front, left to right) Payton McElwaine, Emme Wikner, Kaitlin Picha, Hannah Bogdonovich, Kacie Picha, Ariana Fish; (back) Cora Keehner, Autumn Shaw, Madelyn Keehner, Ava Kishman and Brynlee Fritz. (Photo courtesy of The Outlook)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


The MFL MarMac girls basketball team kicks off its season Tuesday night without a familiar face at the helm, after the unexpected passing this fall of head coach Jason Winter, who led the Bulldogs to a 106-30 record and three Upper Iowa Conference championships since taking over in 2017.


But the beloved coach—and his basketball values—won’t be far from the minds of players or new co-head coaches Brian Bugenhagen and Jess Schubert.


The two were long-time assistants, and friends, of Winter.


“Together, for six/seven years, we’ve worked under Jason. We know the program. We know what we want to do,” Schubert said.


“We’re not really running anything different,” Bugenhagen agreed. “Most of the stuff is what Jason taught, not only on the court but off the court. The same values Jason led the program with, we’re continuing that. We’ve put a lot of pressure on ourselves to honor Jason and what he did for the school and community.”


Bugenhagen and Schubert said they and the players, for the most part, are adjusting well.  


“There are definitely moments, and as the season goes on, I think there will be more moments,” Bugenhagen admitted. “We’ve tried to be there for them if they want to talk. There are memories, sayings, different things we’re going to do throughout the season to honor him and keep him in our thoughts. And it’s not even just Jason, but the whole Winter family.”


“Basketball was a big part of their life, and we’re a basketball family,” Schubert added. “We need to make sure the girls remember that. Jason was big on that.” 


The Bulldogs have a smaller roster this year, and just four upperclassmen: seniors Hannah Bogdonovich and Kaitlin Picha and juniors Autumn Shaw and Ava Kishman.


The coaches will look to Bogdonovich as a leading scorer and rebounder and Picha as the top ball handler and defensive stopper. Kishman, who played as a freshman but not as a sophomore, will return as a key post presence. 


“She’s going to be an asset. She’s a tough girl,” Schubert said of Kishman.


Shaw brings experience, having seen playing time since her freshman season.


A talented group of younger players with years of basketball knowledge, including sophomores Cora Keehner and Madelyn Keehner as well as freshman Emme Wikner, will fill in around them.


“There’s a lot of opportunity for playing time this year because of low numbers in that senior and junior group. It could be multiple girls depending on how practice goes and match-ups on who we’re playing,” Bugenhagen said.


MFL MarMac lacks size but will look to make up for it in quickness.


“We’re fast and going to try and push the basketball,” shared Bugenhagen. “We want to put pressure on a defense by running.”


Rebounding will be another key. So will staying healthy.


Bugenhagen feels the team is in good shape physically—and attitude wise.


“We had girls coming in before the season, conditioning and weight lifting. We have kids who stay after and work on post moves and shooting. We have good kids who want to work and put in that extra effort,” he said. “We all want to do it for Jason—have that in the back of our minds.”


The coaches believe MFL MarMac can compete for a conference title along with the likes of Central, North Fayette Valley and even Kee. Bugenhagen sees the Upper Iowa as more balanced this season, and anticipates a dog fight night in and night out.


“Are we young? Yep. But we have the ability to do it. If we didn’t have that expectation, that’s not Bulldog basketball. That’s not how we think here,” Bugenhagen said. “I think we’ll surprise some people. With a new coaching staff and young team, they might be looking past us, but I think we’ll be right in the mix.”


MFL MarMac’s season will start Tuesday, Nov. 21, at Central. The Bulldogs will play at Waukon on Monday, Nov. 27, then host Kee Friday, Dec. 1.

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