The emails and phones of Lady Panther coaches and players were checked at record rates the night of March 12. Ideally, it would be because of checking state brackets or anything else that falls with playing in the state tournament.
Even eight months later, coach Jodie Karsak and her staff wince at the thought of what cancelling state basketball meant to their players.
At the same time, they’re ready to open a new chapter and see what 2020-2021 could bring.
“Having to immediately stop led to heartbreak,” Karsak said of processing the days and months since. “… COVID-19 is teaching these kids to be resilient and fortunately [that’s a part] of how we try to do things anyway.”
What will come on the court remains to be seen, but the longtime coach has reason to feel optimistic with 65 percent of their scoring returning to the roster. That comes with experience as well with at least four girls who started at least one game last season.
An unquestioned luxury will be the position-less basketball of Derby’s entire roster, specifically with players slated for the front court. Whether it’s Addy Brown (6-foot-2), Jaidyn Schomp (6-foot-3) or Tatum Boettjer (6-foot-3), Karsak said they all possess the ability to play in and outside of the perimeter.
It brings a lot of versatility to what the Lady Panthers can do offensively, but Karsak said the matchup difficulty will perhaps be the biggest luxury of what they can bring to the court.
Where did that begin?
Karsak said these three players and others on her roster are seeing what it’ll take to catch the eye of college coaches.
“Kids are understanding that in order for them to stand out, they have to be able to do more than one thing,” the Derby coach said. “The possibilities are endless.”
Brown tied for the team lead in rebounding (128, 81 defensive, 47 offensive), but brings a tenacity to the court that Karsak said comes naturally for the sophomore.
The Lady Panther coach specifically noted Brown’s development inside of their system and how that carried over in its 44-39, double-overtime win over SM Northwest in the 6A state quarterfinals.
“Addy, like our other players, really hates to lose,” Karsak said. “In that game… it was almost like she had ice in her veins. She didn’t back down one time and I think after that, she has a little bit more swag.”
A prominent voice on the Lady Panther roster will come from Schomp, who has played a varsity role all four years in the program.
“Jaidyn is [absolutely] a position-less player,” Karsak said. “She’d play point guard if I needed her too… but she’ll definitely play the 2, 3, 4 or 5.”
While Schomp will have ample opportunity to impact the game with her scoring, she also brings back one of Derby’s best defensive skill sets, including 31 steals as a junior.
Last year, Maryn Archer and now graduate Sydney Nilles formed one of the state’s top duos at point guard. Archer will now take over those duties and Karsak said the Arkansas commit and now sophomore is more than ready to assume that role.
“She can come off a screen and drive the baseline well,” Karsak said. “She can be a spot-up shooter and go 1-on-1 from the wing. She is a guard, though, that will play all five positions.”
It’s Archer’s vision and ‘game-planning’, however, that Karsak feels has improved the most since her freshman season.
“What Maryn is really great at is she can go downhill from the top of the key,” her coach said. “As a point guard, she has to learn when to do that and when she’s setting up her teammates. Maybe it’s making your opponent play defense for 30 seconds before you take a shot.”
Having served as Derby’s ‘sixth man’ one year ago, Derryana Cobbins will earn a more significant role this season.
Like Boettjer (Circle), Cobbins (Wichita Heights) was a transfer and new to the school last season. However, Karsak feels that both are prepared to have “breakout” seasons in their second go-around with the program.
“She won’t have to think so much,” Karsak said. “When you think, you play a little bit slower. Now she knows what we’re doing and it’s instinct. People are going to be excited seeing what kind of player Derryana has become.”
Even at 6-foot-3, Karsak said Boettjer has been trained to look for her shot at any spot of a half-court set. It’s something that the Lady Panther coach is more than happy to see her junior take advantage of.
“Tatum comes from a hooper family,” Karsak said. “Early on and knowing the God-given gifts she had, Tatum developed really good body control. She could play guard and I could even see her playing that position in college just as much as being a back-to-the-basket player.”
Much like Boettjer’s emergence as one of Derby’s best weapons in volleyball, Karsak sees the same coming on the basketball court.
“Tatum could have a breakout season,” she said. “That’s the potential I see her having. Her being able to relax and just play… she’ll see more of the confidence I do have in her.”
Karsak praised junior Charis Yager for the minutes she provided last season and said she’ll have the opportunity to earn even more minutes in 2020-2021.
“She continues to grow, understand and she’s very smart,” Karsak said. “… Her spatial awareness is so good and she knows where she needs to be on defense.”